Monday, February 11, 2013

"Food Fight: Revolution Never Tasted So Good"

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I sat down to watch Food Fight, a 2008 documentary directed by Christopher Taylor, with some suspicions — after watching Farmageddon last week, I was ready to be extra attuned to and critical of the type of sensationalism and conspiracy theorizing that before had taken me by surprise. But I didn’t end up finding those things in Food Fight.

Instead what I found was a very thoughtful, detailed, critical analysis of the industrial food system in the U.S., a strong argument for why eating non-industrial, local food is important, an acknowledgement of the aura of elitism that many people feel surrounds the local food movement, and a concerted effort to figure out how that problem can be fixed. I also really appreciated the way in which the historical context of the discussion was given: the origins of the current industrial food situation in efforts to feed soldiers during World War II better food than would have otherwise been available to them, the changing economic and social structures that followed the war, federal food policy changes made by Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz in the 1970s, etc.

Something that also appealed to me about this documentary was the way in which the argument being made for eating local, organic, non-industrial food was presented not in terms of morality, but in terms of logic and tangible values, like the fact that local, fresh food tastes significantly better than industrial food (something that anyone who has tasted a home-grown tomato and compared it to a tomato from the grocery store knows for a fact) and that there was a time in American history when quantity and convenience seemed to make sense over quality. But since things have changed and we know better now, and eating better quality food is a matter of preventative healthcare that makes sense for the U.S. economically, the current industrial food system just isn’t going to cut it anymore.  

Those arguments make a lot more sense to me than arguments based on the moral value of “going back to the land” or making social connections with the person who harvested the things with which I fill my refrigerator. And this is not to say that those things can’t be useful or important, because I think that they can be, and I can understand their appeal. But they’re probably not going to change the way I eat. I don’t like having other people’s moral values pushed on me, and I don’t think it’s really feasible for me to buy my food exclusively from small sustainable farms or get to know everyone who has a hand in bringing the food I eat from the farm to my table. And I think that a lot of people whom food activism hasn’t reached or appealed to yet might be in the same boat as me. But I do care when my tomato from the grocery store doesn’t taste like a tomato, or when the most inexpensive foods at the grocery store are the most processed and nutritionally weak ones by virtue of a system over which people do have control and can change. And although it’s really unlikely that I’ll cut industrial food out of my diet completely or drive across state lines to procure raw milk, I can an will get some of my food from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), grow some vegetables and herbs in planters on my porch, avoid high fructose corn syrup, and be politically supportive of more responsible food and agricultural policies. I think that Food Fight was trying to appeal to people more like that, people more like me. And I think it did a good job. 

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