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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Food, Inc. --- a good meal, not a great one


We ventured out from LOVESalem HQ last night to catch Food, Inc. at Salem's gem of an indie movie theater, the Salem Cinema.

The more I think about the movie, the fewer stars I would give it, although it's a very watchable and engrossing film, and I wish every American would see it (particularly those still eating industrial meats -- that is, meat purchased from anyone other than the local farmer).

The bottom line issue that's nagging at me is that the film kept attempting to assert that consumers have sovereign power in our system and that the corporations will gladly do whatever it is we demand, if we only demand it insistently enough. (The illustration used to bolster the argument was that Wal-Mart has decided, after many years of hard work by others, to stop offering milk from cows hopped up on gene-tampered synthetic growth hormone, rBST, a/k/a rBGH.)

But the film really showed, in heartbreaking detail, that consumers are not all-powerful and can only be said to get what they want from the corporate-dominated phood system if what they want is tremendously profitable to provide.

That is, a woman who lost her young son to E. Coli strain 0157:H7 was featured in the film. Her son was killed by eating a fast-food burger. Her story is powerful, compelling, almost enough to make you weep. And yet, precisely nothing has been done to prevent recurrence. She works tirelessly to attempt to get "Kevin's Law" past the corporate owners of Congress but they shut her down, year after year after year. Even after killing people in agonizing ways year after year after year, the industrial phood system, controlled by a handful of surpassingly evil companies like Monsanto refuses to change. If consumers were actually sovereign, as Food, Inc. tries to argue, then we would see companies lining up to make their meat safer and safer, because people do not want food that will kill them. (The movie's brief reference to "The Jungle" and the efforts by people like Teddy Roosevelt to tackle the Beef Trust hints at the reality -- it isn't consumers that are sovereign, it used to be that government was. In the century since, corporations have worked tirelessly to preserve the shell of democracy but to replace its internal workings with one much more to their liking --- one that won't make them get the shit out of the meat if it threatens to reduce profits by so much as a penny.)

But the rBST case undermines the movie's happy talk about consumer sovereignty even more, because Posilac (TM) --- the synthesized recombinant bovine growth hormone --- was the product that no consumer ever asked for. Moreover, when they learned about it, consumers wanted nothing to do with it, and asked repeatedly for milk from treated cows to be labeled, so they could avoid it. Naturally, this upset Monsanto, who set to work all over the country, having their hired hands in legislatures all over America and (ultimately) the FDA FORBID dairies who refused to use their infernal product from labeling their goods as rBST-free or rBGH free.

In other words, the consumer is only sovereign if we can control what the consumer is allowed to know about their food. We know that they want real milk, cream, butter, ice cream, and cheese from real cows that aren't treated like a 100w bulb being burned at 150w (which is what Monsanto's hormones do to cows). Thus, we have to forbid anyone from knowing the difference. It's been nearly two decades and we've finally reached a stage of such consumer disgust about this whole thing that dairies who don't use milk from treated cows are allowed to note that fact --- provided that they also note that the FDA says that there's no difference between milk from cows hopped up on Posilac and real cows that produce as they evolved to do.

This mandatory statement -- which is actually nothing more than a self-imposed indictment of the FDA as a servile puppy licking the hands of its corporate masters like Monsanto -- is like a North Korean news report, which is fitting, given that the control that Monsanto and its ilk exerts over the so-called "regulatory agencies" is nothing if not totalitarian in scope and effect.

The movie was finished too late to note that one of the key Monsanto fixers who revolves in and out of government as needed to keep the system greased properly for The Firm has recently been appointed to -- you guessed it! -- a key role in the Obama Administration . . . as a top adviser on Food Safety no less!

If satire hadn't already been killed when Henry Kissinger was given a Nobel Peace Prize, this surely would have done it. (This should also prove fatal to any foolish notions about the "liberal" Obama and his willingness to fight for everyday people's interests.)

In the last few years, we've seen some stellar movies about some powerful threats and problems: There's the iconic "An Inconvenient Truth" (climate change); "Sicko" (the medical-industrial complex); "The End of Suburbia" (peak oil); and now there's "Food, Inc." about, well, phood.

What is the one thing that unites all these topics? That, until we start talking about the real sovereigns running the show -- the corporations who profit by destroying our climate, treating health care like a luxury to be granted only to the rich, promoting energy consumption and turning food into a weapon of mass destruction -- we'll get nowhere close to a solution to any of these issues.

The one documentary film that actually puts a name to the Beast and points to the underlying solution to all of our dilemmas is one that came and went without a trace, totally ignored by "responsible" media channels (responsible = responsible to corporate owners): The Corporation. That's the real meal deal for what ails us not just in the food aisle, but everywhere.

(For a powerful double feature, watch "HOME" and then "The Corporation." The first makes the problems indelibly clear; the second takes the mask off the source of those problems.)