Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do you know where your food comes from? (Do you want to?)

Last Tuesday (on free-scoop day at Ben and Jerry's!), a few members of EcoAction trekked through the pouring rain to the National Geographic Society for an advance screening of Food, Inc. Sustainable eating is one of my main interests (mostly because I like eating), but this movie really examines where your food comes from and the implications of what you eat, as well as the effects.

Much like The Omnivore's Dilemma, this documentary focuses on where your food comes from. In this documentary, there are appearances by Michael Pollan (my personal favorite and author of The Omnivore's Dilemma), as well as other experts like Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), Gary Hirshberg (founder of Stonyfield Farms), and Joel Salatin (owner of Polyface Farms, located not too far away from D.C., who was also a pivotal character in The Omnivore's Dilemma).

I think it's super interesting how important (and how overlooked) food is in our energy crisis - and how it's also a social, political, and economic issue.

As far as the environment goes, the major issue that this movie brings up is the cost (both in terms of dollar$ and carbon emissions) of transportation. We ship our food from all over the world because we, as human beings, have ceased to be seasonal eaters. We're used to eating, for example, bananas all year around.

But I found that this documentary also, interestingly, had a focus on politics. I found one woman in the documentary, Barbara Kowalcyk, to be particularly endearing. Her two-year old son had died from eating a hamburger contaminated with e.coli. It's the type of story most people would write off as merely tragic, but if you go back and question how the meat got contaminated with e.coli in the first place, it goes beyond tragic to appalling.

Basically, because we live in a country which has such a high demand for beef, we need to raise a lot of cows. We essentially trade quality for quantity, and end up raising cows in super-tight quarters. As a result, cows walk around and live in their own waste, and disease is rampant. But, as any biology student could probably tell you, e.coli sucks, but people can generally recover from.

Not quite. Because cows live in such tight quarters, and because cows are fed on corn-based meals*, they are given huge amounts of antibiotics. Again, as any biology student could tell you, the overuse of antibiotics leads to super bugs, such as super-dangerous strains of e.coli.

For more information about the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act (a.k.a. Kevin's Law, H.R. 3160 in the 109th Congress), a law Barbara Kowalcyk is trying to pass for stricter food safety regulation, click

This was just one interesting aspect of Food, Inc. I highly recommend that you watch it... though the vast majority of the food was disturbing, but really important to see. After all, you are what you eat.

*Corn based meals for cows, because of government regulations, need to have certain amounts of protein and fat - often gotten from other cows, i.e. cannibalism. Also, cows are, by nature, grass eaters, which is why they have rumens. Because cows are fed corn rather than grass, the acidity in their stomachs increases and they are also put on multiple medications to prevent them from feeling sick. Just look up CAFO (Concentrated Animal Farm Operation) for more information.


  1. So, did you hear about how the pork industry got really mad about the name "swine flue" because it was hurting sales? I don't think the US would be worse off (either in terms of emissions, energy usage, or obesity) if the US forwent a few strips of bacon.

  2. i don't know if i can even really say anything about that since i'm not a vegetarian. (though i have drastically cut back on my meat consumption ever since omnivore's dilemma came out) but overall, decreasing meat consumption wouldn't be a bad thing at all, though i think decreasing beef consumption is more effective than decreasing pork consumption

  3. I noticed that I spelled the word "flu" incorrectly, so I thought I would just post-correct it.