At DCPL, if you haven’t already taken note, we have a wonderful collection of documentary films. A lover of the cinema and an eternal student, I am always eager to check out new additions to our collection.
As world leaders calling for restoration of ecosystems prepare to convene at the United Nations Climate Summit this September 23rd in New York City, the largest people’s demonstration on climate change is also scheduled on the morning of September 21st. In the spirit of environmental awareness, I am trying to do my part to make our society, economy, and food/health-care more sustainable. Although I am unable to attend the NYC march, I can write, watch relevant movies, exercise, buy healthy local foods, recycle and re-use items instead of buying new, travel less…and much more!
One of the films that I recently watched and found noteworthy from our DCPL collection is Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating, produced and directed by Ana Sofia Joanes in 2009. With an outlook intended to be as objective as possible while supporting the sustainability and local food movement, the film features visits to industrial or conventional farms and to sustainable organic farms and lightly touches upon the problem of food deserts. The film also includes interviews with farmers from both ends of the spectrum, some of whom had begun their careers as conventional farmers, later converting to organic farming, as well as urban farmers, activists, and smaller businesses promoting locally produced foods.
By visually demonstrating and comparing the processes, output, economics, and attitudes of industrial and sustainable farming, I was able to observe for myself as well as to learn from the experiences of these Americans who have devoted their lives to farming, producing and distributing food. There is a lushness and beauty to the farms where animals and humans share information about living in harmony with nature that is so harshly lacking in the feedlots and chicken farms, where the animals appear stressed, their coats and feathers dull or literally hen-pecked. Prior to watching this film, I did not realize that industrial farmers clip the beaks on their chickens and that pigs’ tails are trimmed. Bored and frustrated, the animals often attack one another in close quarters, where they never see the light of day.
Organic farmer Joel Salatin of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia demonstrates how he pastures his herd of about 300 cows in fields in which over twenty different types of grasses and wild flowering plants flourish. Conventional farm feedlots group together thousands of animals in close quarters. As in nature, in which cows naturally move to different areas over the course of a day or week to graze, Joel rotates the cows (and pigs) to varied pasture lands from day to day. Bringing in chickens to the pastures where the cows have grazed, the birds earn their keep by picking the fly larvae from the cow manure deposited throughout the field, allowing the cows to soon return and avoid infection by parasites.
Mr. Salatin explains that sustainable farms are much more efficient and clean than industrial farms. The animals are healthy, yet they are given no medications, and the veterinarian is almost never needed.
Conventional farms produce huge amounts of pollution growing grain that does not feed people, but cows (who are by nature consumers of grasses). It is expensive to produce this grain, which requires huge amounts of water and enormous quantities of pesticides. Groundwater and soil are polluted and depleted by this process, and the natural variety of grasses that would ordinarily populate and regenerate the soil is suppressed. Feedlot animals are regularly injected with antibiotics and consume pesticides through the grain they eat. Their feces accumulate in large quantities and cannot be recycled because of contamination by the drugs and pesticides. Additional pollutants are created through the gases produced by the waste. The continuous use of low-grade antibiotics causes bacteria to mutate, creating strains that are antibiotic resistant, affecting animals and humans alike and creating risk of untreatable infections. The meats produced by grain-fed cows and pigs are also unhealthy because of concentrations of pesticides, antibiotics, and omega 6 fats accumulating in the meat from the high carbohydrate diet.
Conventional farmers interviewed in the film complain that they have difficulty finding people to work all shifts in their plants, particularly in the processing areas, because of unhealthy conditions. It becomes clear that going against nature is expensive, inefficient, unhealthy, unpleasant and sometimes life threatening to both people and animals.
Today, we face a quandary. Large industrial farms receive federal government grants to raise grain that does not feed people. These single crop farms threaten plant and animal diversity and are creating an environmental disaster. By producing local food even in urban areas, we can lower the costs of creating sufficient, healthy, fresh foods and make them affordable and available to everyone in the country, including low income families in urban areas. By watching this film, while already convinced of the necessity to make healthy and local foods available at reasonable cost to our entire population, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, I feel the urgency to help people become more aware of the environmental consequences of conventional agriculture in this country.
As consumers, the film notes that each purchase we make is a vote, a demonstration of each of our voices in the democratic process. By purchasing local foods, we are supporting the sustainable movement. By supporting organic farms that produce quality products, we are supporting our economies and producing jobs in places where people enjoy their work and are well paid for the work they do. Animals who are raised in accordance with the laws of nature are happier and healthier, and the interconnected process of sustainable farming ensures sufficient food for everyone at a lower cost with infinite benefits for all. The rear panel of the jacket of a documentary new to DCPL, Fed Up, reads: “This generation will live shorter lives than their parents. By 2050, one out of every three Americans will have diabetes.” If this is not a wake-up call to change your family’s eating and buying habits and to take action to change the American way of life for the better, I don’t know what is!
Industrial agriculture and feedlots are responsible for the production of more greenhouse gases than the burning of fossil fuels, to the order of at least 18% (in 2008) according to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. An Indian economist and vegetarian, Dr. Pachauri recommends a reduction in the consumption of meats as an important personal contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases and the global warming effect. Choosing to eat grass-fed organic meats or organic poultry is also a good choice. Whatever decisions you consciously make in this direction contribute to the return to balance of man’s relationship with nature. Your stomach will thank you!
A selection of documentaries on sustainable living and health, the environment, and climate change in the DCPL collections:
Fed Up 2014
Hungry for Change 2012
Plastic Planet 2009
Carbon Nation 2011
Garbage Warrior 2007
No Impact Man 2008
Food, Inc. 2008
Car of the Future 2008
The Garden 2008
Fast Food Nation 2006