Starry Wisdom

Entropic Words from Neilathotep

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Food and You

On Wednesday (May 27, 2009) I was lucky enough to be able to see a preview performance of the film Food, Inc. at the Metreon. It was actually a Yelp event, probably the best one I’ve been to. In addition to a preview of the movie, the filmmaker Robert Kenner, and Michael Pollan (well known for his food journalism as of late) were on hand for a Q and A after the screening.

Since I’ve been interested in the topic of this film for a long time (at least a decade if not more), and have read several major books on the subject (Pollan’s, as well as another contributor to the film, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation), and I just saw Pollan speak at at a Long Now seminar just a few weeks prior, I didn’t really learn anything new during the movie. However, it was interesting to see things I already knew reinforced by the motion picture medium. The movie is a wonderful survey of the issues related to food health and safety that are in large part a product of the colossal agribusiness system in the United States. There are many origins for the problems we have now, including the “Farm Bill”, particularly how it evolved over the last few decades of the twentieth century; the “fast food” lifestyle of the population of the United States; and, most disturbingly, the vast curtain that’s been drawn across the populations eye’s by agribusiness and their friends in the government.

Time is ripe for change in many areas, and we shouldn’t overlook our ‘food’ policy. There is a draft food safety bill currently in congress which addresses many issues of food safety that are cause for concern, but it is far from perfect. Of particular concern to me is that it seems to favor big business by the yearly fee structure, as well as the traceability requirements (particularly the interoperability clause in the bill. Now, paper or an excel spreadsheet should be interoperable, but…). $1000 a year per facility is nothing for big business, but for a small operation it’s a lot of money. True, there is an exemption for farms that sell directly to consumers and restaurants, but there are plenty of small producers who would be adversely affected. I don’t have the full picture of the economics, and I know that funding any changes is important, but this method is particularly regressive. Some sort of sliding scale based on revenue would be a better idea (or perhaps a corporate tax increase? there’s always hoping). There is also a call out to put in a requirement for facilities to self-test for pathogens and report positive results, which seems like a good idea, but not a panacea.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know exactly what this bill should do or how it should be changed to be most effective and fair. I did read this interesting blog post that argues that smaller is better, and in a lot of ways that makes sense at many levels (except the top, but frankly, feck them). Now, a small food producer is not necessarily safer than a large food producer, BUT any negative outcome of their production would be contained. And smaller generally means more local, which means savings in carbon output (but, well, this is a complex issue since the majority of carbon used in farming is in the growing of the crops, not in the transportation – and anyway, exploiting the various seasons across the country makes sense. Just because I live in CA and can get fresh produce year round from local farms doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t export our food to the rest of the country).

We’re used to some things in this country. Super cheap junk food, cheap meat, and expensive vegetables. This leads to a particularly awful, unhealthy, and ecologically unsound diet. A little bit of change in the way americans eat (and the way our food is provided), could have vast implications in our health, and environment. It’s a very tangled web, and I could probably talk or write about this for hours and still be making almost no sense to anyone who is new to the issues. But the important thing I want to do is get people thinking, because thinking about these issues brings up some inconvenient truths. And I can’t see a better way to get this into the mainstream than Kenner’s movie. I urge everyone to see it, and to suggest it to everyone they know. I also urge you to contact your congresspeople and urge them to give us a useful and sane food safety bill – something that’s been needed for a long time.

posted by neil at 1:56 pm
under food,politics,rambling  

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