People often ask me if it is due to religious reasons that I don’t eat meat. They suggest I could be taking some kind of social protest stance due to inhumane treatment of animals. Do I want to destroy capitalism? It’s even been alleged that I may be missing some segment of intestine vital to meat processing. With more than a bucketful of genes from the land of Haggis and blood pudding as well as having grown up on Dodger Dogs and Disneyland Nachos in the heart of self-centered, money-driven LA-LA Land, I assure them that’s not it (though apparently it is for Chuck Palahniuk).
Why? Where do you get your protein? Why? Do you have low blood sugar? Why? Did you know you can get Diabetes that way? Why? I usually answer that I worked at KFC for almost two years and that if they knew what really was in the Colonel’s 11 herbs & spices they might feel the same way. Don’t even ask about the gravy.
Don’t get me wrong. I can dig on some swine when I’m trekking in Laos or hunting wild boar in New Guinea, but not one that’s been rooting around in his CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations- eating hormone-enriched corn covered in porcine influenza defecation. It’s merely a case of not wanting to put what “they” put into that, into me. I tell them that meat production causes- beyond the alarming rate of methane produced by bovine flatulence- aquifer depletion, nitrate depletion, phosphate depletion, excess use of fossil fuels, animal waste runoff, damage to freshwater and marine ecosystems…yada, yada, yada.
“But bacon tastes good, pork chops taste good…”
Even Travolta as Vincent Vega’s justification in Pulp Fiction rings hollow in the days of food biotechnology and genetically engineered flavors. It’s not just the meat either. Actually more so, it’s corn, soybeans, vegetable oils, cheese, peanut butter…yeah, PB & J is off the table these days, even batteries have been polluted. What is safe to put in, around and on our bodies? Who can we trust? Why have we let our relationship to our basic survival be turned into a multi-billion dollar industry focused on faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper?
This is exactly what filmmaker Robert Kenner wants to ask in his 2008 documentary Food, Inc., but finds out just how difficult it is to get to the truth. Over the six years it took to produce the film he researched basic food safety, what farmers are growing and how and why they are doing it, worker safety and the place of the illegal immigrant in the current economy, as well as the monopoly a few multi-national corporations have on the many. In order to get to the heart of the multi-headed beast that is modern day food production he talks to, among others, Eric Schlosser (Co-Producer, author of Fast Food Nation), Joel Salatin (Owner/farmer of Polyface Farms in Virginia) who feeds his livestock grass- the way nature intended- and Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to hear what he has to say about our current asocial relationship to plants, animals and food.
As the film more equanimically suggests, Monsanto and other companies are looking to control every aspect of food: from seed to stomach. Beyond genetically altering the DNA of plants they are in the process of patenting pigs and other livestock. Which begs the question: how can someone patent an extant living being? Via intellectual property law is how, which is some of the strongest and most strictly enforced law in the world. Normally, people and companies apply this to any kind of idea, invention, or creation, but what happens when the creation is a Vitamin A fortified protein strand such as in Golden Rice? Remember the Taco Bell Starlink Corn fiasco? Or what about BT Corn (Bacillus thuringiensis), otherwise known as Transgenic Maize, genetically modified corn planted worldwide to eradicate the European Corn Borer. They say this is a way to correct the small flaws of nature, a way to create the superpig, the superplant, how to superfeed the world. Suer. Why not make me super resistant to your bullshit while you’re at it. And it’s all nice and patentable. What comes next? The fortification of corn borers with BT resistant genes? Or what we see happening now with regard to pig feed?
Countries looking to resist Monsanto’s widening global reach are running into problems. Independent pig farmers from Europe, and especially Denmark, Sweden and Norway are consistently being forced to pay higher prices for non-GMO feed (largely soy) from North and South American producers of soy who are being pressured to plant more GM seed, which thereby lessens the non-GM crop and enlarges Mansanto’s grip on the global food supply. It gets worse: the feed has been sterilizing the animals. It can’t be proven incontrovertibly, but there it is.
Genetic Pollution happens when genetically engineered seeds spread their genes in the wild. Pollen from the transgenic crop tends to pollute the indigenous crop creating a Frankenstein’s monster, a gene soup which when tested shows signs of GE technology. The company who created the genetically engineered seed, which is patented intellectual property, can then sue unwitting farmers, and often does, with the backing of government agencies, often putting them out of business and consolidating more market for themselves.
These companies are producing pharmaceuticals, and antibiotic resistance strains within the genetic makeup of certain crops. Even scarier are the possibilities of adding human genetic properties to plants. Can a Hindu safely eat a tomato while still respecting his religious tradition? If we are asking this question are we already too far gone? Besides the obvious cannibalistic repercussions, there is the problem of reported experiments such as the addition of spermicidal properties to corn, resulting in sterility if a man were to eat the corn. American economist / activist Jeremy Rifkin has gone on to enumerate a number of other, scarier possibilities, such as human clones, human-animal chimeras or bioroids.
It should be said that a large part of this industry was born when I.G. Farben developed Zyklon B and other chemicals during the early part of the century in order to better orchestrate the Final Solution, which in turn spawned the pesticide industry. After the second world war, American industrialists went to various factories in Germany and mined the coffers for the secrets of their products. A few small chemical changes later and we have the pesticides Chlordane, Chlordicane and DDT. Though currently banned, these chemicals were engineered to persist, to endure within the soil in order to dissuade pests from returning after initial deployment. Unbeknownst to the scientists engineering them was the toxicity of these chemicals to more than just the insects, but to grazing animals and humans as well. Not to mention the built-in persistence of these chemicals, to stay in soil for decades and bond to heavier oil-based crops like, say, corn.
It may seem farcical to say but the whole philosophy behind the engineering of these chemicals is largely based upon warfare, stemming from the massive biblical tradition of the Americas. The chemical plants were already in full operating mode after WWII but with nowhere near the demand for wartime production levels, they jumped on pesticides. This plus the prevailing human mentality of dominion over nature and sovereignty over all, epitomized in the Abrahamic religions, literally produced a war against nature that had supplanted the war against the Nazis only a few years before.
It was said that PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) were safe. They were not. It was said that Agent Orange was safe. It was not. Now it is said that genetically modified organisms are safe. The problem being is that we don’t know because there is a severe lack of proper peer-reviewed testing going on? Add to that the industry’s reluctance to properly label genetically modified food as well as irradiated dairy products (almost all of them are currently zapped). Where are the tests? Show us the results. Let the consumer decide for themselves.
We ask ourselves why.
Why is industrial agriculture destroying the future of food production?
Why all the soil erosion, soil compaction, salinization, waterlogging, destruction of beneficial biodiversity, loss of natural enemies of pests, insect and herbicide resistant weeds which have already come about, as one would say – naturally – yet this process is speeding up the evolution of nature?
Biodiversity is being eradicated. The gene pool is being homogenized. It’s the final solution on a global scale, irregardless of sex, race, creed, species or DNA. Why are we sitting down for it and shoveling it into our mouths?
Is this too harsh? Is this yet another case of a liberal bias to the media? Obviously the subject of the food people eat is and always will be emotionally tinged, especially when big business, which means people’s livelihoods, is involved. Of course breeders, fertilizer and pesticide makers deserve the credit for increasing the bushels per acre of corn from 20 to 200 since the early 1900s. The truth is we do need to feed a lot of people. So is Monsanto actually trying to streamline the food production system in order to help revolutionize global agriculture and help feed hungry kids everywhere? The argument is there to be made. I just don’t hear anyone from Mansanto or Tyson granting any interviews. So what actually happens when you buy boneless chicken breasts, maguro sashimi, canned corn, frozen dumplings or fresh spinach? As the film suggests, the individual consumer can show their considerable voting power with every product they buy, which is the only way change will take place, by targeting the vast sums of money being pocketed with every shipment of genetically homogeneous potatoes to McDonald’s. The ramifications are immense and often unseen. Slowing down, viewing the world around us and demanding answers may be exactly what we need to bring change about. It’s ok if you disagree, just answer me one more question: does the shit in your burger taste good enough for seconds?
- Food, Inc. Trailer
- Powell’s Books Interview with Eric Schlosser
- Michael Pollan’s homepage (Check out the links)
- Michael Pollan on TED Talks
A Participant Media presentation, in association with River Road Entertainment. Produced by Robert Kenner, Elise Pearlstein. Executive producers: William Pohlad, Robin Schorr, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann. Co-producers: Eric Schlosser, Richard Pearce, Melissa Robledo. Directed by Robert Kenner.
With: Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a line of documentaries HESO Magazine will look at which revolve around potentially life-altering subjects. Many of these productions were funded independently and are still seeking wide release. There are many ways our readers can help promote positive movements: Visiting the website and donating a few dollars, educating yourself further on the subject, or simply telling friends and family members about alternative media and ideas. It’s simple. Don’t take my word for these things, but find out for yourself what’s going on in the world around you so you can make an informed decision about your own life and the lives of your family and community. Thanks.