Food as a Justice Issue
Tonight I watched "Food, Inc." It's a documentary that looks at our food supply, including genetically altered food, and how demand for heavily processed (inexpensive) food has a connection with many questionable practices, including illegal immigration (most people won't work in a nasty slaughterhouse unless they're desperate). I knew watching this film would disturb me, so I put off seeing it. Who wants to look at chickens with oversized breasts stuffed into dark barns, or cattle being slaughtered, or farmers weeping because the government and big business have squeezed them out of business?
But I buckled down and took my medicine--I watched this Oscar-nominated film to get informed. And what I saw made sense. Much of my college education got funded by a bean crop in mid-Missouri, so I knew about the government subsidies--sometimes given for not growing anything. I found it interesting to learn some of the logic behind some practices I had benefited from.
So I'm glad I watched "Food, Inc." I'm happy to be more informed, and I'm pleased the producers ended it with some steps I can take that sounded a lot like, interestingly enough, living biblically.
The film explained how changes in how we "farm" food have been more drastic in the past sixty years than in the several thousand years that preceded them, thanks to the invention of fast food, genetically altered food (which the Brits call Frankenfood), and economies of scale that mean about six big-boy multinational corporations control global food production.
Now, do you think they concern themselves with how healthful a product is if there's less demand for it than the unhealthful cheaper product? (It's often cheaper to purchase a McBurger than to buy a head of broccoli.) The evidence suggests that the just treatment of animals and employees is a low priority compared with turning a profit in these ginormous companies. Is that any surprise in a capitalistic system? And on top of that we have ammonia washes of our meat and hormones in our milk.
Yet the bad practices can stop if consumers demand changes. And that's good news, because we are the demanders. Three times a day we make choices about how we will interact with this system. Shifts in consumer demand are already helping to shift practices toward more accountability. The tobacco industry changed when consumers started demanding better information and repeal of unjust laws protecting big business. The same can happen with our food supply.
Food suppliers provide what the market will bear, and we're part of that market. We can help by buying local, by going with foods that are in season, by reading labels, by planting even small gardens, by resisting genetically altered foods, and by making sure the farmer's market takes food stamps so that eating right isn't just a luxury of the rich. Planning menus and cooking instead of going through the drive-thru also shifts demand from heavy-starch, corn-rich products to stuff that's better for us--and for the food chain. And when we say grace, we can ask for the strength to drive demand toward higher standards of food quality along with better work and living conditions for people and animals.
Part of doing justice starts with our trips to the supermarket, as well as when we stuff our mouths three times a day. We have so many opportunities to effect change.