Tonight as Jason and I were flipping through channels trying to figure out why there is nothing good on tv on Wednesday nights, we saw that PBS was airing the documentary Food Inc. We had both avoided watching this for different reasons. Jason avoided it because the last time he saw anything about how animals were being treated prior to slaughter, he completely gave up eating red meat and switched to free range/barn roaming chicken and he was afraid he'd have to give up half of the food that's left if he saw what it went through. I avoided it because I knew it would make me mad because, let's face it, it doesn't take much to make me mad. But, when faced with the choice of educating ourselves or watching a rerun of House Hunters, we decided to do the responsible thing and raise my blood pressure.
I wish I could say that the documentary was entirely eye opening, but it wasn't. The fact is, I knew some of this stuff was going on before watching the documentary. I knew that animals were grossly mistreated and abused in the factory farming system, and I knew that government regulations on a lot of the food we eat have not been up to snuff. I even knew that there were companies patenting seeds and suing people for harvesting seeds and replanting them. The thing that really got my blood boiling while I watched this documentary was watching how all of these problems and oversights have effected actual people. I'm not really talking about people who eat the food, though they are included, I'm talking about these farmers who now have no control over the one thing they know how to do best: produce food. I heard fear in the voices of the people speaking out against large corporations who basically tell them how to run their farms or raise their livestock. I saw people who work in an industry that has never really been known for its vast profits talk about how they can barely afford to stay afloat while huge corporations are making these massive profits at the expense of both the farmer and the consumer. That's where the anger started. It just continued to build as I watched a mother whose son was killed by e-coli bacteria fight to get legislation passed to allow the government and the FDA to shut down slaughterhouses and factories who repeatedly produce contaminated product, and listened to her talk about how this has been a six year process and still is not getting passed because the consumers might not want to pay more for their food just to ensure its safety. I was appalled, and I was angry.
There was a point in the documentary where they showed how many people who had worked for some of these large corporations are now employed by the FDA, or are in congress with the corporations in their back pockets paying for their reelection campaigns. At this point all of my anger ended up turning into something I did not expect. It became helplessness. I felt completely helpless. Because, as much as the people on the documentary want everyone to believe that they vote every time they make a grocery purchase, I don't think that's enough. Once you count out the people who simply can't afford the healthy foods because they barely make a living wage (another subject for another time), the rest of us are still left with financial choices at the checkout counter. We're also left with limited options in a large portion of the country because not everyone has access to a store that carries a wide variety of produce that is organic, or meat that is humane. So it feels like change has to come from much higher than the grocery store conveyer belt. The problem then becomes an issue of who owns who? If the corporations own the politicians and the politicians want to hold office, then who is doing the right thing for the little people? I am very frustrated by this question. As much as I believe that people should vote, and people should pay attention and make their voices heard, I'm afraid that the corporate involvement in the system has drowned out all of the voices of the constituents and left only the roar of corporate fat cats. I find myself wondering if all of us taking little steps will really matter at all, or if it will just cause someone to say "Make it more expensive to buy the good stuff, then people will buy ours because it's cheaper". It's worked so far for Wal-Mart. And it's cheaper because the government subsidizes things like corn growing, which is a crop we actually have far too much of and it doesn't need to be subsidized. How about this idea, we subsidize all crops? Wow...we could all afford to eat the way we're supposed to if someone decided to do that. But they won't, because I'm sure someone will lose money and then someone else won't get reelected and then I would imagine the world will end from that.
It simply seems wrong that with all of this debate on healthcare, no one has thought to take a good look at what kind of crap we put into our foods, and as a result of that, our bodies every day. We eat crap and then are amazed when we are unhealthy and have to be put onto ten different medications. I'm not saying that I'm about to give up things like drinking soda entirely, because I like soda, and I'm not saying that I'm going to completely stop eating all processed foods, because it's nearly impossible to do that since everything seems to be processed in some way or another. I'm just saying that maybe if we made the stuff that's good for you as affordable as the crap, some people might pick up the good stuff. And I know the simple solution to my problems with factory animal farming is to simply become vegetarian but let's face it, I'm already the pickiest eater alive and I don't want to give up my chicken, especially when it's in fried rice. Plus, it's not a crime to eat meat, but it is a crime to abuse the animal before you turn it into meat. I am not a perfect example of eating the ideal diet, but I do consider myself fortunate enough to be able to afford to take a piece of fruit in my lunch every day. I feel bad that there are so many out there who can't, and I think the system needs to change so that everyone can afford that. I just wish that someone was really fighting for the little people out there instead of the corporate greed. I find myself more and more disgusted with people who allow themselves to be bought by the highest bidder, which means that they have allowed our food production system in this country to be turned into modern day share cropping.
So, while the activist in me says "The system is down. Fight the system!" the realist in me is saying "What now? Is there any hope?" and those two sides of me are arguing about how I feel on this issue. Obviously I'm going to stay angry for a while, because that's what I do best, but I sort of wonder if there comes a point where the fight is just too large and we all feel too small and we are just too tired of pushing against the concrete wall that refuses to move. I will continue to push, but part of me thinks that the little people simply can't do it alone.