Like every “good” Seattlelite, this evening I attended a screening of Food Inc. at SIFF with several friends. As I write this, I feel conflicted about what I have to say, my own personal actions and most of all what the movie conveyed about our food industry. Food Inc., is about our food processing industry, in some ways it is a modern day version of the Jungle by Upton Sinclair about the standards in which our food is handled and the workers. Tonight’s screening was pretty much like a bunch of liberal Democrats watching a Michael Moore movie, preaching to the choir. Not that it didn’t educate us, make some more aware of the industry “standards,” or how politics, capitalism and the USDA are connected. I am pretty certain most of the viewers walked away thinking how can I buy more local and will read more about the companies portrayed in the film. As I exited the theater, people were talking, I heard someone mention buying Sea Breeze meats, sharing their “favorite local food commitment.” We made the mass exodus with about half of the theater to stand in line at Molly Moons for her awesome (and local) salted caramel, balsamic strawberry and honey lavender in freshly made waffle cones to delineate and discuss the documentary.
Watching the food processing industry dissected and attacked was actually less shocking than expected. But, it hits close to home, very close. I work in an industry that supplies the equipment to several of the companies mentioned, we attend a food processing show every year. I write orders and interact with one of the top three companies on a daily basis, they basically support my salary. A few months ago I visited a local factory off of Aurora whose products are full of high fructose corn syrup, something I personally avoid eating, yet it’s been a project to increase business with them. Am I hypocritical? Can I help change the way we process our food? Food to me is not about just fueling my body, it’s a way of life. Recently on a trip to Eastern WA we drove by countless factories who “process” the food we eat, mostly fruits and yes, they are customers of ours. These are brands I avoid buying rather I pick the local organic farmer whose fruit is less pretty, maybe a bit bruised, but much more flavorful. OK yeah, I will admit I love iced coffee from McDonald’s and I eat out all too often so probably consume my fair share of food from Sysco and FSA. Ironically today I ate almost completely local with the exception of iced coffee from Starbucks; lunch at Homegrown and ice cream from Molly Moons. Oh and I was one of those people sliding down in their seats with the bag of popcorn as we were educated on the massive corn industry killing the small farmers and contributing to our high processed food- HFCS, corn starch… the list goes on.
Food Inc., enlightened me in several ways, one thing I didn’t realize was the strong effect the big yellow arches has on our food industry, the largest buyer of not only beef, but apples, tomatoes and potatoes. On average our food travels 1500 miles before it reaches our table, pretty amazing to think about the impact environmentally. Just like abortion and sexual health, food is political; our government dictates the way we eat, what we can eat and how our food is prepared. As consumers we have an impact, our buying power determines what is produced. The CEO of Stoneyfield Yogurt argued that his product even though it’s now sold at Wally world, it is still making a difference. Funny enough I remember eating their yogurt as a kid, the small yogurt company from Vermont that we bought at Bread and Circus or when they ditched the plastic lid to save on packaging. They’ve been a leader, as much as we want to criticize companies such as them or Whole Foods for just feeding into what’s popular to make more money, they are still at least helping the cause, for example one of their suppliers for milk who herself had never stepped foot in a Walmart nor cared to which she directly told the execs when they visited her farm. Yes I am going to start shopping more local, paying even closer attention to the foods I buy and try to eat at home more. However, I will support companies that are making sustainable, healthier and organic food more accessible and affordable for all. I look forward to the day that all meats and dairy are hormone free, that our portions are smaller and fruits and veggies are accessible to all income levels. Will my own personal decisions change the world? No, but selfishly I want to be healthier, live longer and make less of an impact for future generations to come. And truthfully, I like my food to taste good. I’ll take a piece of freshly wild caught King Salmon any day over farmed fish who is being fed corn so it’s bigger and cheaper. Thank you to those who have worked and continue to work relentlessly like Michael Pollan, Alice Waters and Robert Keener, you educate us on food politics and stopping an industry that is killing us softly and waking up our eyes to the impact of our consumption.