I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of FRESH, a new-ish documentary about sustainable food systems, farming, and industrial farming. If you can get your hands on it, please – for all that is sacred – watch it.
It’s highly entertaining and thought-provoking, with engaging interviews, gratuitous shots of cute animals (and, of course, shocking shots of factory animals), and great stories. It leads you in, very slowly, to the craziness that is industrial food production, and just how far removed it is from actual food.
A few things stick out in my mind, but one in particular: overhearing a sustainable farmer’s phone interview, in which he makes abundantly clear that he’s an economist, a scientist, an agricultural expert, and a businessman. For whoever thinks that farmers are just yokels in overalls, you need to watch this movie for that scene alone.
It’s not a one-sided, preaching-to-the-choir movie, either. There’s an interview with a couple who are industrial chicken producers. They sign contracts with big business, who then provide feed, chickens, and deadlines for slaughter. And they say, wide-eyed, that they don’t give hormones or antibiotics to their chickens – but no, ma’am, they don’t really know what’s in the chicken feed.
It talks about monocultures and treatment of animals, and links a number of human health issues – notably, avian flu and swine flu – to the horrific conditions in factory farms.
On the whole, it’s a hopeful movie. It makes you want to be a farmer, and to support local business. Even better, it brings economic arguments into the picture: not only is industrial food production bad for your health and your community, it’s actually bad for the economy. It’s so wholly unsustainable and disrespectful – to this planet, to food systems, to all components of food systems – that you wonder how we ever thought it would be a good idea.
And after the movie, the panel discussion really drove that point home. It’s not about food. It’s about food systems. And until our production methods acknowledge and work within those systems, we will have problems.
So, what’s the take-home message? Vote with your dollars and your fork. Cook, or learn to cook. Hug a farmer.