Documentary: "Food, Inc." (2008)

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WARNING: after you watch this disturbing documentary, you may not be able to eat meat.  Ever again.  Seriously, it's that gory. How it got a PG rating, we do not know.  Images of screaming pigs and workers hacking away at bloody carcasses?  No, they didn't borrow their footage from a horror flick.  While it (probably) won't give older viewers nightmares, you'll most likely re-think eating anything other than grass-fed meat, produced locally at a family farm.  

Food, Inc. (produced by Robert Kenner & Eric Schlosser) provides a sweeping overview of the issues created by agribusiness in the United States, as well as the ramifications of corruption in our agricultural and environmental regulatory bodies.  It pits the small farmer against industrial giants (picture Monsanto with horns and a pitchfork, and you get the picture).  It portrays the plight of a mother in Colorado who lost her young son in 2001 to a burger made with contaminated meat. She spent the subsequent years in a battle to enact the protective "Kevin's Law" against meat-processing factories contaminated with the likes of Salmonella and E. coli.  

If we believe the producers of this documentary, everyone (except big business, of course) is a victim in our modern food system, from the animal to the feedlot worker to the consumer.  Eating in the United States suddenly becomes a scary proposition.  

Probably even more scary is that Food, Inc. has been out for awhile.  For. Six. Years. Evidently brutally frank documentation alone is not enough to, as they put it in the film, "break the back" of agribusiness in the US.  It wasn't until 2011 that President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, which addresses the prevention of food-born illness as opposed to mere reactionary measures.  At a grassroots level, there's an entire website (www.takepart.com/foodinc) devoted to the 1 million (and counting) afficionados of Food, Inc. that has many ways to get involved in this movement for change in our food system.  

And yet.  In central Texas, anyway, change is slow to take place (or so it would seem). Friends of ours, who own Vintage Heart Farm, shared with us that they often have difficulty selling all the eggs they bring to the farmers' market each Sunday.  Their chickens, whom we had the pleasure to visit with on a recent farm tour, get to run around happily all day, live in a custom-built chicken coop, and dine on the finest Texas grasshoppers.  Their eggs are delicious, with multicolored shells and huge yellow yolks.  And yet, in this city of roughly 1.4 million people, these beautiful eggs go unsold.  At the local supermarket, eggs sell for far below what you pay at the farmers' market (market prices here run about $6 a dozen).  Our theories on this issue are: a) there's a lack of interest in buying local; b) Americans are conditioned by the prices they see in the grocery store and get "sticker shock" at local markets; and c) many people simply haven't got the time or interest to educate themselves about where their food comes from.  

On the positive side of the equation, we were pleasantly surprised recently to see our local Saturday market literally flooded with thousands of locals, all out shopping for Texas-raised produce, meat, eggs, honey and more.  The farmers here are all struggling with the prolonged drought we're in (going on year 4), so it's really nice to see the city out supporting them. Days like this past weekend really restore our faith in humanity!

Whether you're an omnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, or a flexitarian (to borrow from Mark Bittman), go watch Food, Inc. and check out the related website.  Just don't eat a burger right before you hit "Play!"