Posts Tagged ‘Food Inc.’

It’s Michael Pollan’s World, We Just Live In It

Generally speaking, I’m an avid supporter of Michael Pollan.  He’s charming in that I-look-just-like-scrawny-vegan-Moby kind of way.

Ironically though, it seems there has come a point when even I am all Pollan-ed out.

I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence Of Food… who hasn’t, nowadays?  And I’ve seen Food Inc, King Corn, Death On A Factory Farm and others of their ilk that deal with the myriad problems affecting our global food systems.  But when I was browsing at the bookstore this past Christmas, I saw the latest tome in the Pollan repertoire, the slim and succinctly titled Food Rules.  To be frank, after thumbing through the pages I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for exactly 3 reasons;

1) It really struck me as “Food – For Dummies,” or rather a distilled version of his previous 2 books

2) I’m not keen on ideas once you start labelling them as “rules” because my inner anarchist says no, not to mention it makes it sound like some kind of slapdash lose-10-pounds-quick diet plan

3) It would be preaching to the choir since I try to maintain a diet centred around real food already, anyway


Truly Outrageous

Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to watch episode 2 of Hugh’s Chicken Run, which is a BBC show that features Britain’s own Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) exposing the realities of commercial chicken production.

I intended to write about this yesterday, when I could still feel the fire of indignation in my belly, but the more retarded of our 3 cats chewed through the power cord on my laptop charger, thus leaving me without access to the interwebs.  My ranting has likely grown a little more subdued than it would have been immediately following the show, but it still raised questions nonetheless.

In the second episode, Hugh takes a group of people he’s convinced to raise chickens on a tour of a poultry-rearing facility that he’s constructed as a small-scale model of the difference between conventional and free range birds.  He fills half of the giant shed with 1,600 chicks destined to have a relatively charmed existence, while the remaining 2,400 or so( of the 4,000 birds he starts with) are crammed into the same size shelter on the other side of the barn.

The free range birds obviously have a little more space because there are less of them on their side of the shed, but they also get perks like bales of hay to roost on, balls to play with, CDs to peck at and access to the great outdoors.  What might seem like small concessions make a world of difference to these birds, as is evidenced by the flock of perky, upwardly mobile chickens pecking and scratching around.

By contrast, the conventional birds were much more cramped in their space, and had no “toys” to play with at all.  After several weeks they could barely walk, having eaten so much (during the 23 hours a day they’re encouraged to eat) that the poor birds had grown faster than their legs could support.  The carpet of bird shit was so heavy that apparently the barn stank of ammonia and many chickens were getting “hot spots” on their legs and feet (which is a pleasant way of saying they were being burned by the chemical reactions of so much shit coming into contact with their extremities).  Having so many birds confined to such a tiny area also increases the chance of illness infesting a flock, so any time a sick or slow bird was found, it had to be removed.

On top of that, Fearnley Whittingstall discusses how he has to cull many chicks because they are smaller than the rest and won’t make “market weight” at the same time.  Because this unfortunately represents no profit, they must be dispatched.  Throughout the show you can see him becoming increasingly shaken with each cull, but on the conventional side, birds are only given 5 to 6 weeks to live and one cannot risk the safety of the flock with ideals.


There Go(es) My Hero(es)

I think it goes without saying that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mrs. Obama are some of my heroes.

I also can’t forget the guys behind King Corn, who have a new documentary coming out this winter called Truck Farm, that deals with their quest to grow a market garden in the confines of the flatbed of a pickup truck.  It’s such a stupidly funny concept that it’s got me wondering why I didn’t think of that.  But to my credit, I am growing most of my food in ugly kiddie pools.

All of these ongoing efforts to bring the campaign for healthy, local, sustainable food to North America are admirable in their dedication, and are definitely not going unnoticed.  More than ever people are taking an interest, whether by reading labels, shopping at farm stands or just growing their own food at home.  We’re witnessing a pivotal moment that could shape the way that food is mass-produced for the children of tomorrow.

However, a few recent articles have put me on to two other people whose goals I admire.  Over at NY Times, you can read about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who is now putting his talents to use by growing crops and feeding people in urban food ghettos.  The man’s charisma literally oozes off the page, with an aw-shucks kind of quality to everything he says.  Not only is he changing the world, but he’s humble about it, too.

Building on the concept of aquaculture, there was an article about this guy in the Globe and Mail about two weeks ago.  I’m not a huge fan of most cooked fish though I adore sushi, and I would never have a use for one of these setups, but nonetheless, I think what he’s doing is amazing.  It’s that kind of fringe thinking that makes me optimistic that our global community can find a path to sustainability.

And then there’s Jamie Oliver; during the last 2 months The Food Network has been airing a whole slew of his programs geared toward food awareness.  First there was Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, which focused on teaching a town in England to cook.  It was so popular that it’s been picked up for a US version that will feature Ryan Seacrest (ugh!)  Then there was the kitschy, slightly game show-esque Jamie’s Eat To Save Your Life, in which the charming Oliver gets all bedecked in a ridiculous looking suit and perambulates around the stage, informing 18 Brits about the many ways that their terrible eating habits are quietly killing them.  Using shock and horror to poignant effect, one segment shows a woman sitting in a bathtub filled with all the fat she would consume in 5 years at the rate she was going.  The next one hour episode in the series, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners shows a room full of guests excited to have a dinner cooked by Oliver being educated on the vast differences between free range and battery farm chickens instead.  Jamie even manages to get an interview and inside look at one of these battery farmhouses, which is more than could be said for the guys behind Food Inc. It’s seriously disturbing, from the way the coops are extremely overcrowded, to the fact that most of the chickens can barely walk, right down to the end of the show where Oliver learns and demonstrates how to humanely dispatch a chicken.  It’s not something you’d necessarily want to see, but if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to stomach how it happens.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got an episode on pork (yet to air in Canada) cheekily named Jamie Saves Your Bacon.  I suppose if anyone can do it, Jamie probably can, although even I will admit that after a while some of the shock-rockery of his schtick gets a little bit old.


The Foodie 13 – Recommended SOLE Media

I’ve been quietly ruminating over my impressions of Food Inc. for a little while now.

The more I try to collect my thoughts, the angrier I find myself getting.  Actually, perhaps that’s not quite the right word.  Indignant is probably closer to the mark.

The movie itself is brilliantly made, and walks the fine line between eye-opening/educational and graphic/sensationalism rather successfully.  It’s an important movie, and one that I hope will get a more widespread release, because I think it’s something that people need to see.  Here in Canada, (according to it is only being screened at 2 theatres; one in Toronto and one in Montreal.  I’m somewhat surprised that nobody bothered to get it into a major urban market like Vancouver, but maybe the powers that be think (like I sometimes do) that they’re a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to getting back to “real” food, anyway.

In light of that, I thought this would be the perfect platform to discuss what I consider to be essential reading/viewing material for those interested in the  SOLE food movement.  Some of these may not exclusively focus on SOLE, but in the instances where the overall message meshes nicely with those ideals, I have chosen to include them on the list, anyway.

So without further adieu…

1 – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan - When I first picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s seminal work, I thought it was quite a novel idea.  The thought of tracing one’s food back to it’s source was entertaining, in a wouldn’t that be nice to know kind of way.  I was never a big fast food/junk food supporter in the first place, but after reading this book, I found my opinions changed in ways I hadn’t expected, specifically pertaining to organics and the skewed view we all have of them.  I’ve yet to meet a person who’s read the book and not had their food philosophy altered.  If you’re interested in re-evaluating your relationship with food, this book is a great place to start.



I can’t remember when, where or how but I entered a contest to win passes for the Food Inc. movie premiere.

I just got a call and apparently I won.  Go me!

So Monday, while everyone else is shaking off the crappiness of the first day back at work after the weekend, I’ll be sitting in the darkened Varsity theatre watching Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser ranting and raving about our dwindling food supply.

(I know, don’t all be envious at once!)

Whatever, either way I won.  Maybe it was on Toronto Life or something… curious.

Until next time…

Oh My Gore

The Everyman and I live a relatively healthy, locally sustainable lifestyle.  And we’ve been doing it for a lot longer than it’s been en vogue, too.  We’ve never been militant about it, and to be honest I’m pretty certain that the Everyman just follows along because I do 95% of the cooking, but I am a strong believer in the ability to change the world in many small, impactful ways.  There are obviously things that we both enjoy that aren’t local (chocolate and tropical fruit for me and citrus and bananas for him) and we don’t exclusively limit ourselves just because something doesn’t grow in Canada.  I like to think of it more in terms of incremental savings; neither of us drinks coffee, and we rarely drink tea, plus I buy as many of the things I want to eat from local sources as I possibly can.  If I had to ballpark it, I’d say 85-90% of the food we consume comes from the farmland surrounding the Greater Toronto Area, and what doesn’t are the small luxuries or gourmet items we love, enjoyed sparingly but often.  During the summer that number is even higher because the majority of our fresh veg is harvested from right outside my patio door.

Always mindful of what I put in my body, when I saw that Death On A Factory Farm was on TMN last week, I decided to record it.  Given that the Everyman and I have wildly divergent tastes in television, film and literature, I knew it’d be a movie I’d be watching solo.  When I finally sat down to view it, it was during the 2 and a half hours a day that I typically have all to myself (before he monopolizes the tube) between when I get up and he stumbles out of bed in the morning.  It’s a film in a genre that I would refer to as a shockumentary, one that essentially beats you over the head with gruesome images or over-the-top histrionics in order to get the point across.  It delves into issues of animal cruelty (primarily), speaks a bit to industrial farming, and looks at the importance of sustainable agriculture.  There have been a lot of really heavy-handed documentaries about food production and commercialism in the past, like King Corn, Supersize Me and the Michael Pollan/Eric Schlosser epic Food Inc. but in truth I do think it’s important for people to ask questions and learn more about the places that food comes from, because what you learn just might surprise you.  Even just watching 5 minutes of the new 100 Mile Challenge program will show you that most have no clue what is local or where it comes from, aside from a styrofoam package or plastic wrapper.

This particular movie does a decent job of causing you to question all of those things, and more.  If you’re an animal lover or squeamish at heart, I would not necessarily suggest watching this (least of all alone, and definitely not first thing in the morning).  While it vividly documents the cruelty and injustice that exists in commercial farming, there are many images that now haunt my dreams.  Namely, a scene where the erstwhile farmers wantonly fling tiny, live piglets through the air, cramming them into a bin like so much garbage.  Just because an animal is destined for a dinner plate does not mean its life has no value, and that it shouldn’t be treated with kindness and respect.  The content of the movie serves to prove that there is too much commerce and not enough soul in larger scale operations today.  The disgusting climax of the film occurs when the intrepid, undercover farmhand catches the method the farmer uses to dispose of ill or stunted animals on tape.  I won’t go into it here, but it I found it abhorrent that people capable of such heartless actions exist.  From what our organic grocer (who used to be a farmer) has told me, farming is not a particularly profitable business, no matter what brand of meat or veg you’re growing.  Which is exactly why it boggles my mind that people who so obviously dislike animals and care very little for their welfare would choose to become farmers in the first place.  The only reason I could come up with is that they must’ve gotten some perverse enjoyment from exerting their dominance over small, simple creatures.  It’s a crying shame, but the fact that the whole thing went to trial at the end is a small, bittersweet victory.

As I said, earlier we don’t consume much that isn’t locally sourced, organically grown or of which I don’t know the provenance.  After watching Death On A Factory Farm, I can honestly say that the gravity of the movie has spurred me to be ever more vigilant about what ends up on my plate and in my belly.

Until next time…