This week I watched Food, Inc., and predictably, I feel like crap.
I’d heard this film was somewhat akin to going to confession, and I knew I was a sinner in the church of food. But after passing over it many times in the movie store (yes, I am the last person on the planet without Netflix) in favor of more light-hearted selections, I finally rented it.
Of course, the images of fluffy, buttercup-yellow chicks being transported on conveyer belts like car parts and manhandled by stony-faced workers was disturbing. And the hectic squealing and terror on the “kill floor” of the pork packing plant was cringe- inducing. The worst, I think, was the government’s night-vision raids on the mobile homes of undocumented workers (not the mansions of the business executives who employ them.) That really pissed me off. And it was painful to watch a Latin American family struggle between $2.00 hamburgers at Burger King and $5.00 bunches of broccoli at the grocery store. Which would better fill the bellies of their two children?
Certainly, the issues are complicated. With the rising population, how are we supposed to feed all these people? Especially when the houses of that same population are encroaching on much of the farmland. How are we supposed to prop up hard-working farmers? How are we to keep food costs low enough for American families to be healthy and happy?
There are many questions. But what is readily apparent—no matter how you feel about animal rights or immigration laws—is that the system is big and sick and dead wrong. We aren’t propping up farmers; we’re driving them further into debt. We aren’t feeding people healthy, life-sustaining food; we’re feeding them crap—because crap is cheap. And we’re not making the best use of our land, we’re not letting the symbiotic relationship between plant and animal work its simple, age-old magic. So now we’ve got super-bacteria in our bellies, and E-coli on our tomatoes. We’ve got people dying from infected food, and the rest of the population growing heavier and sicker by the year.
But let’s be honest—we know this. We’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation. We’ve seen segments on the news, and heard about these issues on NPR. Yes, we’re upset by this information, but it no longer shocks us. Truth be told, I expected to be duly horrified by the inhumane practices of factory farms and super-companies like Tyson and ConAgra. I expected to make major resolutions about the food I buy and what I eat. But I didn’t expect to fail so heartily so quickly.
A few days later, driving down a country road, Tony saw eggs at a roadside stand for $2.00 a dozen. We bought two. And as I gazed over our beautiful, misshapen, hard-shelled, sustainably-raised eggs in hues of pale brown, pink, and blue, I sighed and took in a deep breath of the unseasonably warm air and thought “Yes, this is it! I am doing it.”
Only, that night for dinner I was served a delicious riff on cassoulet made with sweet Italian sausage, chunks of earthy lamb and tender pork, and plump kielbasa—all hailing from God knows where. (Probably Costco.) And I didn’t even think about it. Literally. It didn’t even cross my mind until the next morning. I felt like a fraud. I had been so self-congratulatory about my eggs that I had completely missed the meat carnival in my dinner.
If people who care about these issues mess up so often and so completely, then what about the rest of the world? Is there any hope for us? For now, I guess, I’ll stick with my eggs and pray for the New England weather to stay warm and the farmer’s markets to open early.