” give me a thousand acres of tractable land & all the gang members that exist & you’ll see the authentic alternative lifestyle, the agrarian one”. ( Bob Dylan, liner notes, World Gone Wrong ) Food for thought. Second helpings, Please! Perhaps you should reconsider that rumbling in your stomach.
The expression ”speaking truth to power” has been much abused and appropriated.Original credit for the phrase belongs to the Quakers in a written response to the militarism and arms escalation of the Cold War in 1954. It was found in their document, ”A Quaker Search For An Alternative to Violence”. They believed that the assumptions underlying the establishment and proliferation of the military industrial complex could not be sustained, and correctly surmised that the policies based on them are built upon the flimsiest of foundations;fear mongering, imperialist ambitions, and assumptions that could destroy the planet.
”Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden. This truth, fundamental to the position which rejects reliance on the method of war, is ultimately a religious perception, a belief that stands outside of history. Because of this we could not end this study without discussing the relationship between the politics of time with which men are daily concerned and the politics of eternity which they too easily ignore.”
The concept of ”truth to power” has been applied very effectively into the documentary film genre over the past several years; attacking established power from its weakest point of entry: the mouth and into the soft underbelly of food consumption. Which, after one digests the reality, is the same story of militarism/racism/consumerism into a new millenium that Dylan has termed the ”new dark ages”.For most Americans, the ideal meal is fast, cheap, and tasty, and in this sense all consumers are guilty in this crime through passivity and the path of least resistance.
Food Inc. examines the costs of putting value and convenience over nutrition and environmental impact. Director Robert Kenner explores the subject from all angles,and the result is almost traumatic.The filmmaker takes his camera into slaughterhouses and factory farms where chickens grow too fast to walk properly, cows eat feed pumped with toxic chemicals and the treatment of animals is appalling and cruel. Everything is reduced to ”product”. In addition, illegal immigrants risk life and limb to bring these products to market at an affordable cost.In fact the absurdity of subsidies is almost Kafkaesque, resulting in situations where a double cheeseburger trio sells below the price of a lettuce.
If eco-docs tends to preach to the converted, Kenner presents his findings in such an engaging fashion that Food Inc. may well reach the very viewers who could benefit from it the most: harried workers who swallow anything on their plate similar to cooped up chickens. Essentially, we are also in the slaughterhouse, our own ”golden ghetto” that is part of a legalized crime syndicate of agriculture for the masses. Our opinions have been conditioned to be genetically modified as well.The narrative avoids the sensational, smoothly stirring the boiling pot of industial food production controversy while allowing those not familiar with the dark secrets of the food production industry to enjoy a film in calorie reduced portions.
Fortunately, the gut wrenching, even stomach turning scenes in meatpacking plants and chicken coops are toned down. Despite assurances by the government,the film makes a compelling case of showing people how dangerous and unregulated our food system remains. Food Inc. comes off less like a documentary and more like a food based 1984 where the food conglomerates act like Big Brother. Parts of this film appear to be as scary as any recent horror film. But consider, most horror films are works of fiction while this film deals with ”product” that sits on your dinner plate.
”The domination, control, and manipulation that characterizes the way humans treat animals who come under their control has set the tone and served as a model for the way humans treat each other. The enslavement/domestication of animals paved the way for human slavery. As Karl Jacoby writes, slavery was “little more than the extension of domestication to humans.’ ” ( Charles Patterson )
In his autobiography, My Life and Work (1922), Ford revealed that his inspiration for assembly-line production came from a visit he made as a young man to a Chicago slaughterhouse. “I believe that this was the first moving line ever installed. The idea [of the assembly line] came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef.” A Swift and Company publication from that time described the division-of-labor principle that so impressed Ford: “The slaughtered animals, suspended head downward from a moving chain, or conveyor, pass from workman to workman, each of whom performs some particular step in the process.” It was but one step from the industrialized slaughter of animals to the assembly-line mass murder of people. In J. M. Coetzee’s novel, The Lives of Animals, the protagonist Elizabeth Costello tells her audience: “Chicago showed us theit was from the Chicago stockyards that the Nazis learned how to process bodies.”
King Corn, directed by Aaron Woolf, is an off-kilter documentary about two best friends who decide to move to Iowa to grow an acre of corn, after finding out through laboratory hair analysis that their bodies were made primarily out of….corn. This is not your standard buddy picture and anything but a hokey sentimental journey. Corn is a huge business; its consumption within the food supply chain accounts for over 20% of global caloric consumption. While King Corn does trace a year in the life of two friends, the film is really about the history of corn in modern America and the filmmakers’ relationship with the crop they’ve decided to grow.
After the somewhat shocking discovery about their bodily composition, Ian Chaney and Curt Ellis move to a small county in Iowa in order to find out how they ended up being made out of corn. The two friends convince an Iowa farmer to lend them an acre of land to plant their corn crop. They purchase genetically modified corn for planting, and with the help of their neighbors, some heavy machinery, and lots of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, they end up growing a bumper crop . But as Ian and Curt show us, this isn’t your sweet summer corn-on-the-cob we’re talking about. It’s corn bred specifically for industrial applications and is inedible as fresh produce. The two friends decide to find out what happens to the corn they’ve grown after it leaves the grain elevator, and find that tracing their crop requires a sleuth like dedication. Ultimately, however, they come to the realization that their corn is likely destined for one of two American industries: animal feed or corn syrup.The film gets to the heart of the matter by revealing the farmers’ frustrations. Many of them are multi-generation farmers caught up in the farm subsidy system. They realize that the current farm subsidies are part of an end to the more traditional farming of generations past, but can’t remove themselves from the system without financial ruin.
”This unique grain – it has no close counterpart elsewhere in the plant kingdom – exists only in association with man, and it survives only as a result of his intervention. Thus, the story of corn is in many ways a story about people”( Paul Mangelsdorf ).Corn has been far more crucial to the cultures they inherited than any king or emperor ever was. From its origins, the corn plant has been very nearly as important to our political and economic life as it was to the pre-Columbians.Corn was more precious to the American Indian than all the gold of the Andes. It was a sacred plant.
Biologically, corn is something of a monstrosity because in its cultivated and only current form, the plant cannot propagate itself. The ears, which contain the seeds, are enclosed by husks so there is no way for the seeds to scatter. However, the wild ancestor must have been different; at least it must have been able to regenerate in the wild . The unknown ancestor theory is related to the theory of it evolving from some other wild botanically related plants still known to exist. The the mystery of the ”wild plant” or wild maize, uncultivated plants that could reproduce itself. Many Mexican Indians have an almost religious devotion to corn, who still, out of reverence plant a few felds of Nal-Tel and Chapalote, two of the ancient strains, alongside more modern and productive strains. ”Popul Vuh, which is the treatise of Mayan legend and history, describes corn as the ’spirit of life’. Humans, they believed, were created from sacred corn, by the deities. Those suffering from a severe illness were fed corn alone, in the belief that their health would be restored.”
The French documentary, called “The World According to Monsanto” and directed by independent filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin, paints a grim picture of a company with a long track record of environmental crimes and health scandals. It is equally perplexing in that it shows how food policy is directly linked to racism and cultural genocide by destroying milleniums old traditions of farming and disconnecting humans from their soil. The wisdom of the ages is discarded along with humankind’s relationship to the land. Monsanto is in the vanguard of a dominant ethos of ”normative liberty” based on the rules and laws pertaining to property.In their case, patenting nature and charging a royalty for its use.
”According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry….It’s a symbiotic relationship. The corn stalk supports the vines of the bean stalk. The huge squash leaves provide a ground cover to keep the soil moist for the corn and for itself. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs for healthy growth.”
Monique- Robin’s film details how Monsanto pollutes the environment, effectively pushes for deregulation, and stifles competition from naturally produced crops across the world. Monsanto is an American-owned international agro-chemical and foods conglomerate. It employs about 45,000 people and hawks over eight billion dollars a year in chemical products globally. Best known for producing NutraSweet, Round-Up, and the genetically engineered rBGH (Bovine Growth Hormone). It has been criticized of late for it’s moves into the world of GMOs (genetically manipulated organisams). Monsanto produces ‘RoundUp Ready’ soya beans that are genetically altered to be resistant to their chemical herbicide. ‘Roundup’ another product, is the biggest selling agro-chemical in the world with sales totalling more than $620 million a year, which provides 40% of the companies operating profit.
This powerful biotech corporation is threatening to destroy the agricultural biodiversity which has served mankind for thousands of years.In fact, destruction of food diversity is also a destruction of culture. It has forced PCBs, Agent Orange, biotech crops and rBGH on the world and has much more control over global politics, laws and the future of food and water than most people realize.Thanks to these intimate links between Monsanto and government agencies, the US adopted GE foods and crops without proper testing, without consumer labeling and in spite of serious questions hanging over their safety. Not coincidentally, Monsanto supplies 90 percent of the GE seeds used by the US market.Over the last decade, Monsanto aggressively bought up over 50 seed companies around the globe. Seeds are the source of all food. Whoever owns the seeds, owns the food. The process of genetic engineering allows companies, such as Monsanto, to claim patent rights over seeds, and then uses sales and marketing clout to create farmer dependency to their system. Ninety percent of all GE seeds planted in the world are patented by Monsanto, and hence controlled by them.
The three documentaries would have been a very different ”final cut” if Michael Moore had made it. It would have come with swagger and snarky narration. It would have had plenty of time and budget to build a stylishly stacked case against subsidized farming. And its instigators definitely would not have put on a suit and tie to interview corporate America. But ultimately, less authentic, highly derivative and entirely bomabastic and narcissisitic.To turn Allen Ginsberg’s phrase, Moore is always the ”elephant in the mediation hall”, and may actually hinder progressive film making of this type by weight of populism and superficiality. The three docs were made for roughly $400, 000. while Moore’s films cost 6-7 million and have inferior production values…but more star power.
It takes passion, perseverance, fortitude, determination, and luck to be a successful documentary filmmaker. Because there is little money to be made, most filmmakers who begin their careers making documentaries switch to fiction. Few can endure the rigors of funding, producing, directing, editing, and distributing documentary films. Fortunately, a few hardy filmmakers make documentaries a lifetime dedication and passion. The above mentioned films all succeed in their search for reality, because they do not abandon the notion that complex ideas can best be conveyed through powerful storytelling.
”The exploitation and slaughter of animals provides the precedent for the mass murder of people and makes it more likely because it conditions us to withhold empathy, compassion, and respect from others who are different. Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, “There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a la Hitler.” Indeed there is. About the same time the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno made a similar point: “Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”
”We believe there is a way, and that it lies in the attempt to give practical demonstration to the effectiveness of love in human relations. We believe able men, pacifist and non-pacifist alike, have taken this initial insight, developed it, demonstrated it, and built understanding and support for it in field after field of human relations. In view of this, it is strange that almost no one has made a serious attempt to explore its implications in international affairs. There is now almost no place in our great universities, few lines in the budgets of our great foundations, and little space in scholarly journals, for thought and experimentation that begin with the unconditional rejection of organized mass violence and seek to think through the concrete problems of present international relations in new terms. It is time there was.” ( Speak Truth to Power )