Wednesday night, I went to see Food Inc, the much talked about documentary focusing on the food industry. It is playing at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.
I have read Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser), Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), and In Defense of Food (Pollan). Therefore, I anticipated having already been exposed to most of what I was going to see in the film. However, I still wanted to go and see how it all would be adapted for the big screen. The film features commentary from both Pollan and Schlosser. I thought the film was well made and it held my attention.
The movie touches upon all the hot issues : large scale meat processing, the use of corn and soybean, lack of government regulations, organic food, and seed patenting. To note, the movie is not ‘anti-meat’, although it could be considered ‘anti-non-organic meat’.
Information that was ‘new to me’ was the use of seed patenting. This specifically relates to Monsanto and their soybean seed patent. Monsanto developed the ‘Round-Up Ready’ soybean, a product resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This technology has allowed farmers to grow soybean faster and more efficiently. These genetically modified soybeans have become the dominant player in the soybean market. However, when a farmer purchases Monsanto soybean seed, he or she agrees to the terms of the patent agreement, which prohibits the farmer from cleaning and re-using his or her seeds at the end of the growing season. Historically, cleaning and re-using seeds was the norm. It seems farmers now struggle with adhering to these patent agreements (its just counter-intuitive to the way farming should be- not to mention pricey) and life long friends and neighbors are pitted against each other as Monsanto (seemingly with an iron fist) works to enforce the terms of the patents.
To be fair, Monsanto has now released a ton of literature (all available via the website in the above link) countering the many claims the movie made. Monsanto argues that the ‘Round-Up Ready’ soybean is not something that previously existed in nature and is therefore intellectual property and worthy of a patent. Does this make them evil?
What is the answer? In this short review, I really only touched upon the seed issue in detail. However, the whole movie contains information and arguments that are hardly one-sided, despite the fact they may be presented that way in the movie.
The film (along with all the books I have read and other information I have absorbed) surely push me to make the best food choices I possibly can. I try to purchase organic products, free range chicken, grass fed beef. I try to eat more whole foods and less processed ones. I support local farmers’ markets.
However, I struggle to grasp how we could feed the world organically. I suppose I still view food choices as personal choices. Maybe not everyone puts organic food high on their priority list – and therefore, there should be choices available for them too.
Yet, I can see how ill informed the public is in regard to the products they put in their bodies every day. Maybe if they had all the information, the above mentioned priorities might shift.
What is the answer? If you go see Food Inc. and think you have it, please let me know. I also encourage you to read the books by Schlosser and Pollan, as they contain tons more information than was presented in the movie.