Fresh the Movie: Your Part in Our Broken Food System

August 3rd, 2009

Fresh the MovieFresh the Movie is a documentary about food quality, sustainable farming, and the major flaws of our food system. Based on the excitement surrounding this film, I had high expectations for it and thought it could potentially have a significant impact on the many people who are making misguided dietary decisions. Without a doubt, it’s an excellent documentary that everyone should see, but it in regard to it’s potential to provoke change, it fell short of what I was hoping for.

The average consumer typically doesn’t understand or care about the health or environmental consequences of eating processed food. If they do happen to choose whole foods, they’re even less likely to realize that the conventionally farmed produce and meat in most grocery stores has health and environmental consequences as well. Fresh the Movie provides a great synopsis of these problems, but I question if it’s message is strong enough to inspire the average consumer to make a change.

Your Wellbeing Depends on Food Quality

As the documentary points out, data from the USDA shows that today’s conventionally farmed food contains approximately 40% less of key nutrients in comparison to 1950. Back then, there was no such thing as organic farming because for the most part, it was the only choice! Now we have to pay a premium for it and go out of our way to find it. Is this supposed to be a benefit of technological advancement?

Today, farming is highly industrialized, and like any business, industrial farms are heavily focused on efficiency. As a result, the laws of nature are being deeply infringed upon in favor of productivity and profit. Unfortunately, the agricultural industry has gained enough influence over the media and even the government that great measures are taken to make the average consumer believe that there’s nothing wrong with processed food and that natural solutions are inadequate.

One common tactic is the use of flawed research to suggest that organic food has no nutritional advantages over conventionally grown food. A deeper look at such research often reveals discrepancies such as fresh conventional produce being compared to old organic produce that has been shipped thousands of miles. Even worse, many such studies are funded by the very same industries that profit from processed and conventionally grown food which is a significant conflict of interest.

Another common argument is that organic farming can’t feed the world, but according to Michael Pollan, the highly regarded author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, this is clearly not the case.

Our Deeply Flawed Food System

Nature is an amazing force. However, the foundational principles of conventional farming are foolishly designed to outsmart nature. In direct contrast, natural and sustainable farming principles succeed by mimicking it. Nature thrives on diversity, and in a natural setting, the soil supports the plant life that supports animal life, and the death and excrement of the animals completes this highly efficient and interdependent cycle by supporting the soil.

Conventional farming breaks every principle of this cycle. The same crops are grown on the same soil year after year without any diversity and without any animal life to replenish it. As the soil becomes depleted as a result, conventional farmers become more dependent on pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals and may even choose to start growing genetically modified crops which are about as far from natural as you can get. Conventional livestock farmers cram their animals into warehouses, feed them food that they’re not evolved to eat, and feed them drugs to promote faster growth and reduce the sickness that results from their inappropriate living conditions.

These unnatural methods of growing crops and raising livestock result in several significant problems. The dependency on chemicals and fertilizers results in the pollution of land, water, and air, and yields food that’s contaminated with chemical residues and is less nutritious. Even worse, the unnatural environment that livestock are raised in promotes the development and spread of illness and antibiotic resistant bacteria. In addition, the excessive amounts of contaminated animal excrement becomes a source of pollution instead of being valuable source of natural fertilizer that it should be. Like produce, conventionally raised livestock also yield food that’s contaminated and less nutritious.

Here’s another example of how backwards and misguided our food system has become. 70% of industrial agriculture, which equates to a significant amount of land that is being depleted and polluted, is dedicated to the production of grain based feed for herbivore livestock that shouldn’t be eating it anyway.

People Who are Making a Difference and Deserve Your Appreciation

For me, the most inspiring part of Fresh the Movie was seeing the work of the farmers who are using and supporting natural and sustainable farming methods. We owe these people our support for providing and protecting the food that nature intended for us to eat.

A Real Farmer

Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface Farms, is the ideal example of a conscientious and sustainable farmer who produces high quality food from cattle, chickens, hogs, turkey, and rabbits. He considers himself to be a “grass farmer” as the health of the soil and the grass are what allows these animals as well as his business to thrive long term.

From Professional Basketball to Dirt and Worms

Will Allen, a former professional basketball player turned farmer, is the founder of Growing Power, Inc. and has accomplished an amazing feat by creating a fully functioning farm on a 2 acre lot in urban Milwaukee. As the only farm in the city, Allen is living his vision of providing fresh whole food to city residents who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise. In his small space, he’s able to grow 20,000 plants and vegetables, keep thousands of fish, and raise chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits, and bees!

Many of his plants are grown in greenhouses, and to provide the high quality soil that is characteristic of sustainable farming, he composts food waste from the food industry with the help of worms and the waste from his fish to create the healthy new soil that his plants thrive on. Most importantly, he runs workshops to teach people sustainable farming methods. Talk about making a difference!

Antibiotics Gone Bad

Russ Kremer, a family farmer from Missouri, was heavily influenced by his college education to implement industrial farming practices despite his family’s history of natural and sustainable farming. After spending a significant amount of time injecting his sick hogs with antibiotics, one of them gave him a strep infection that was resistant to antibiotics and nearly killed him. Immediately after his recovery, he switched to natural and sustainable farming methods and hasn’t had the need to use antibiotics on his livestock since.

A Corporate Good Guy

David Ball, the owner of a family run chain of supermarkets in Kansas City, has helped to bridge the gap between natural farmers and consumers. His Hen House Market stores stock all of the food produced by the local farmers belonging to the Good Natured Family Farms organization which supports natural and sustainable farming. I certainly wish there were stores like this where I live!

A Need for a Stronger Message

Let’s face it, America is addicted to convenience and instant gratification. It’s often hard enough to convince people how important their diet is to their wellbeing without telling them that they’ll need to buy more expensive food and go further out of their way to get it. As such, they need a strong message to help convince them.

Fresh the Movie showed some of the animal cruelty and inhumane conditions that are characteristic of industrial farming and explained the shortcomings of our current food system, but in my opinion, it only scratched the surface and didn’t really convey an urgent need for people to make a change. Don’t get me wrong, I consider any documentary such as Fresh the Movie to be a blessing, but with all the resources that must have went into producing it, I just wish it was more sharply focused on motivating people to take action.

My Family is a Good Example of this Need

Being two of the people who I care about most, my wife and stepdaughter are often stuck listening to my ramblings about how they can make better dietary choices and how their decisions may impact their health, the environment, and the welfare of farm animals.

They live more healthily and consciously than the majority of the population, but they still haven’t fully embraced a truly healthy and conscientious lifestyle. As such, I was hoping that Fresh the Movie would have an impact on them. Half way through the documentary, my wife was asleep and my stepdaughter had left the room. As you’d expect, my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time, but I’m fanatical about this stuff and am not the type of person who this documentary needs to speak to. However, my sleepy wife and disinterested stepdaughter definitely are.

Although my family’s disinterest is not the basis for my opinion about the need for a stronger message, it’s a good indication that it’s true.

You are the Solution!

This is too significant of an issue to be resolved by the small population of us “health nuts” who go out of our way to buy organic produce and pasture raised meat. Natural and sustainable farming must return to being the norm rather than the exception and the only way this can happen is if more of the population transitions to sustainably grown food.

Many people complain about the extra cost of natural food. However, if we continue to support the unsustainable practices of industrial farming, it will be our health and our planet that absorb the extra expense. Furthermore, there are ways to reduce the cost of natural food. If we don’t eat well, our lives will likely be compromised by the limitations of disease and poor health, and if we don’t take care of the planet that we depend on, the lives of our children and grand children will be compromised even further! Make an effort to support local and natural farmers, and by doing so, you’ll be helping yourself as well as everyone around you.

Despite my slight disappointment with Fresh the Movie, it’s a great synopsis of the problems we’re facing with our food system and I highly recommend that you watch it. Even if you’re already familiar with the subject, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. With the exception of thinking that it doesn’t convey a strong enough message, I did thoroughly enjoy the film and it served as an excellent reminder of why I live the way I do and why I’m passionate about encouraging others to do the same.

Check out Eat Wild, Local Harvest, or the Eat Well Guide to find natural and sustainable farmers in your area. Also check out Sustainable Table for more information on sustainable farming.

This article is part of Real Food Wednesdays.

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