Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Must See Film: The Future of Food

When I was a kid in grade school and we sang the "Iowa Tall Corn Song" every day (right after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance), I had more than one teacher who constantly drummed into our heads that Iowa was the "breadbasket" of the nation, indeed the world, not just for its corn, but for its other agricultural products as well. The object lesson was, of course, to build up our state pride to provide us with "ammunition" against those who would inevitably denigrate our humble state, since as a state we have had our share of self-esteem issues over the years, deserved or undeserved. But we played a big role in feeding this country and the rest of the world ... or so we were told, and part of me has continued to believe this even as I've grown into the cynical adult I now am.

It was our claim to that quiet nobility of purpose to produce grains and cattle that would help feed people far beyond our borders. That is, until the family farms started to fail and disappear en masse in the great 'Farm Crisis' of the 80's, when corporate agribusiness interests began (much like Wal-Mart did to small retailers) to gobble everything up and where they couldn't gobble their way in, they squeezed the small family farmer to the point of extinction.

A bit of personal history ... I grew up in a small farming community (pop. 1200), and quite frankly hated it for the first 18 years of my life and couldn't wait to graduate from High School and flee to college where I could finally be the person I knew I always was. I've prided myself (perhaps wrongly) over the years for leaving and never looking back, but deep inside me, the agricultural roots were always strong (thank you Dad), even if I didn't liberate them until I was in my 30's and began gardening in earnest, they were part of me and ultimately who I am. I willfully and deliberately "took the Iowan out of Iowa" but I never succeeded in "taking Iowa out of the Iowan," so when I grew disgusted with living in Florida and decided to make a clean break, it only seemed normal to come back to my roots here.

All that as prélude to a film I just watched on Hulu over the weekend ... I have to admit I've become a bit of a Hulu addict over the past few months, due to its incredibly rich selection of TV series and feature films, presented with limited interruptions. (I just recently devoured all 53 episodes of Arrested Development there, much to my delight.) But Hulu has a growing treasure trove of documentary films as well, and just recently added The Future of Food to their listings.

The subject of genetically modified organisms (often called GMOs) has interested me for years due to my innate fears that somehow we were opening Pandora's Agricultural Box in some regards by unleashing genetically modified crops ("Roundup Ready" seeds anyone?). There's just enough of the old hippie idealist left in me that I've always harbored a deep distrust of the huge chemical corporations like Monsanto and DuPont (who bought out the Iowa legacy mainstay Pioneer a few years back) who have now come to dominate American Agribusiness and literally enslave the struggling family farmers who still try to practice their time honored vocation.

That, in a nutshell, is what this film is all about: How, from time immemorial farmers used classical agricultural practices centered around preserving the genetic heritage of plants from generation to generation, with careful selection over the years made to improve varieties of crops naturally without artificial manipulation. Then something rather frightening occurred in (roughly) the 1970's when the technology developed that would allow scientists in the labs to splice genetic code (thanks, Watson and Crick) into plants (and animals) to make them resistant --and even some cases, toxic-- to insects and diseases.

The Future of Food
is another classic case of "follow the money," where these courageous filmmakers have done precisely that and brought to light the ugly underbelly of contemporary agribusiness. From highlighting the saga of a North Dakota farmer sued for patent infringement by Monsanto because "Roundup Ready" soybeans strayed (quite naturally on the wind) into his fields contaminating his crops, to traditional Mexican farmers who are striving against all odds to preserve their corn's genetic heritage from contamination by American seeds, this film documents (quite clinically and calmly) all these disturbing developments caused by GMOs now entrenched in our National (and International) food chain.

This is an important film and really deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. The fact that Hulu makes it available online for free (you don't even need to register for an account to watch this film) is truly a service to the public, and you should take advantage of it, no matter what your take is on the whole issue of genetically modified food and whether we deserve greater transparency about how the foods we buy to eat are produced. It's quite sobering and often scary in its revelations about just how much we don't know about what we are consuming on a daily basis and how these choices may ultimately affect us. Is it worth spending 1 hour and 28 minutes of your time to watch? Definitely. That's about how much time I spent writing this post, so when you have the time to spare, click the link (image) and educate yourselves on this crucial issue. It may change the way you think about your everyday choices when you go to the grocery store....

This film was produced by Catherine Lynn Butler and written by Deborah Koons Garcia (yes, she was Jerry's third wife), two very engaged and aware filmmakers to whom we owe our gratitude for bringing this documentary to fruition.

Here's Hulu's description of the film:
"The Future Of Food offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly filled U.S. grocery store shelves for the past decade."
I'll step down from the soapbox now and leave it up to you. And, if you've read this far, thanks again for indulging me in one of my occasional tirades. I just thought that this was too important not to write about, especially for those who are inclined to gardening in the first place....

Flowers and puppy pictures will resume soon. I promise!

25 comments:

Roses and Lilacs said...

Interesting. Genetically engineered foods have never frightened me. What scares me is food handling from growing conditions to supermarket. Somewhere in that chain is where people are sickened and killed by the food they buy and eat.
Marnie

Family Man said...

Hi IVG,

I haven't watched the film yet, but I will today. I have to agree with Marnie that genetically engineered foods haven't frightened me that much in the past. However, after watching the film my outlook may change.

I haven't become addicted to Hulu yet, but I do like the convenience of going back and seeing some of the shows I might have missed.

Hope you and Fernymoss are doing good and take care.

Beth said...

IVG - very intruiging. I'll have to forward that to my sister who is very interested in this kind of stuff. Do you recall where that North Dakota farmer was from? Bet it's hard to put up a fight against Monsato, huh?

boran2 said...

I'll have to check out that film. Once upon a time, I posted a number of diaries about GMOs. Hopefully that genie will go back in the bottle.

Eric said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll have to watch that on Hulu. It sounds a bit similar to 'King Corn' that I've been meaning to watch on Netflix. It's just been too nice here to be inside...

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie,
You have a good point about food handling along the chain and even in the stores where we buy it. You should check the film out though ... it may change your mind, and what was even more scary for me is how they showed the impact on farmers' traditional way of life.

Monoculture is bad and this makes it even worse, opening the ecosystem up to all sorts of disruptions ... and with all the pesticides and fertilizers already in use, why should we blindly accept another layer of tinkering? (Not meaning you personally are blind, but that we as a nation blindly accept too many things at face value.)

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey there FM,
You think you can fit this into your slackerly schedule? :-) You might have to replace one of your naps....

It's a good, eye opening film ... I'll be interested to hear what you thought of it. I certainly learned a lot, and I thought I knew a fair amount already ... nuh uh!

I love HULU ... you should try out Arrested Development if you haven't seen it already ... it's hilarious stuff and made me a serious fan of Jason Bateman now. I also watch The Daily Show there as well because I can avoid all the commercials!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Beth,
Do pass the link along to your sister and spread the word....

I can't remember where the ND farmer was from but I think it was further north up by the Canadian border, because some of the Canadian farms got contaminated too. Monsanto almost ruined the poor guy and his family before it was all over. I bet my friend in Fargo would know who he was ... just mention the word Monsanto and he practically foams at the mouth!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey B2,
Ah, I remember the good old days of your diaries ... always looked forward to what you had to say about GMOs. Do you ever do those anymore? If so, you should post them on S:LB!

Agreed about bottling the genie!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Eric,
Nice to see you again ... HULU is fantastic even if it is part owned by FOX (the better part at least). It's amazing how many full length films they have online for free. I think I've heard of King Corn but know little about it.

Their documentary section is still small but growing, but they have some great stuff ... Confessions of a Superhero was another I watched and really liked ... all about those people who dress up as superheroes in Hollywood and work the streets for "tips." What a sad and strange life they lead!

Gail said...

I have these HUGE conversations with my son, an evolutionary biologist and ecologist...I won't go into them, but he sends me research articles that I wade through! I'm going ask him to forward more info on this subject...I know this was a serious post but where's the gratuitous puppy photo? Take care! gail

Family Man said...

Hiya again IVG,

I did watch the movie and I was flabbergasted. I can't believe Monsanto is getting away with this. If anything it would seem the farmers could sue them for contaminating their crops. It's really unbelievable that the high courts sided with Monsanto.

I'm glad you posted this. It deserves a good rant!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi again FM!
I'm glad you took the time to watch. That was a real eye opener eh? I thought the same thing you did when watching it... the farmers should counter-sue, but then, up against that money?

I'm glad you appreciated the post ... I try to pass on interesting information when I can!

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Gail,
You should pass the link on to your son if he hasn't already seen this ... I'm sure he'd find it disturbing too.

I can't remember which GMO it was, but I read a few years ago that they had modified one farm crop to be toxic to pests and it ended up killing Monarch butterflies as a result. I bet there have been bees affected too ... and you know how much I prize bees!

There will be more gratuitous pup pics soon, I promise. :-)

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