Food, Inc: Happy Vs Sad Meat?

Last night I was privileged to have the opportunity to see Food, Inc., the new documentary on factory farming, produced by Eric Schlosser, among others. (The screening was sponsored by Conservation International.) It’s an excellent film that is currently making its way through the film festival circuit. You can see where it’s going on its website. View the trailer here:

One of the farms featured in the film as an alternative to the factory farm is Polyface, the farm visited by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan represents this farm as the obtainable, desirable future in his book. And there is no doubt that it is a much smarter, more ecologically sensible farm than any factory farm.

However, meat production of any kind is not doing the environment any favors. Consider this quotation by Michael Tidwell, an environmentalist, writing for his magazine, Audubon:

“But with global warming, here’s the inconvenient truth about meat and dairy products: If you eat them, regardless of their origin and how they were produced, you significantly contribute to climate change. Period. If your beef is from New Zealand or your own backyard, if your lamb is organic free-range or factory farmed, it still has a negative impact on global warming.

This is true for several reasons. Again, the biological reality of ruminant digestion is that methane is released. The feed can be local and organic, but the methane is the same, escaping into the atmosphere and trapping heat with impressive efficiency. Second, no matter the farming method, livestock makes manure that produces nitrous oxide, an even more awesomely impressive heat trapper. Livestock in the United States generates a billion tons of manure per year, accounting for 65 percent of the planet’s anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions.

Even poultry, while less harmful, also contributes. Ironically, data released in 2007 by Adrian Williams of Cranfield University in England show that when all factors are considered, organic, free-range chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming than conventionally raised broiler birds. That’s because “sustainable” chickens take longer to raise, and eat more feed. Worse, organic eggs have a 14 percent higher impact on the climate than eggs from caged chickens, according to Williams.

“If we want to fight global warming through the food we buy, then one thing’s clear: We have to drastically reduce the meat we consume,” says Tara Garnett of London’s Food Climate Research Network.

So while some of us Americans fashionably fret over our food’s travel budget and organic content, Garnett says the real question is, “Did it come from an animal or did it not come from an animal?””

This isn’t some vegan radical talking. Nor is Audubon magazine notably focused on food production. And there is simply no getting around the points he makes.

Thanks to Peggy Koteen for sending me this quotation.

8 Responses to Food, Inc: Happy Vs Sad Meat?

  1. Perfect! Well done :)

  2. I, too thought Food, Inc. was a great film – though with some reservations, which I shall hope to articulate.

    From the opening bell, as the camera panned those megalithic supermarket shelves to the tune of the narrator’s calm, informed crooning, I felt a rush of exhilaration that FINALLY someone had Big Agribiz pegged, though ‘Supersize Me’ was a pretty good start. In retrospect, Morgan Spurlock’s oft-hilarious film carried what should have been a no-brainer message, and it seems Food, Inc. is merely following up on that, albeit in a much more formal in-depth documentary format. But hey, we should already know the ubiquitous sugar and highly processed junk we all seem to take for granted is definitely making us fatter and bankrupting our sick-care non-system.

    But also from Food, Inc’s opening, when the filmmaker sits down in a diner and commences to gnosh on, and worse, offer a paean to – a juicy red burger, the tone is set for the film.
    Translation? The “meat is OK, touchy-feely, all-American and above all, NECESSARY” message – and the agenda behind it – is a glaring thread that runs through Food, Inc.;the mantra of ‘supporting local agriculture’ is implicitly infused with continued proliferation of veal, dairy, meat, eggs and all other things animal. The vegan/vegetarian message – especially its viability as a SOLUTION to continuing insanity – is, to my perception, completely and conspicuously absent in Food, Inc. If anyone else perceived a wisp of pro-vegetarianism in the film, please let me know!!!

    For all its good points, namely calling out the ghastly blight that CAFO’s are (which most of us already stay abreast of via Farm Sanctuary and UPC), I just cannot roll over the pro-meat/dairy propaganda of Food, Inc. Case in point: the Joel Salatin chicken guttin’ scene. Egad! If that wasn’t enough to turn the stomach of even the heartiest of chicken eaters, I’ll eat my hat!

    Picture this: Mom brings the kids to see the film. When it gets to the part where Salatin’s assistant is shoving gentle white hens headfirst into a metal funnel, then slitting their throats, Mom fails to cover Junior’s eyes, then is left with the difficult task of later explaining repeatedly that “yes, son, chickens have to be killed for us to eat them; it’s perfectly acceptable to shove them into a cone-shaped vise while other chickens watch. It’s normal for men to cut their throats, and of course after the blood is drained, they go into a tank of boiling water. We can’t eat the feathers.”

    OK, so I’m ranting, but having had chickens as pets (roadside rescue!) for most of the past year, I found those scenes chilling and deeply hurtful, yet I’m glad they were in the film; who knows? Maybe somebody ELSE will stop eating chicken as a result of seeing that!

    But I guess we should sit still and swallow ‘grass-fed happy meat’ propaganda hook, line and sinker, because after all, we present-day hominids ostensibly descended from hunter-gatherers who subsisted on ‘free-range’ game, and our genes apparently haven’t evolved much since then.

    In case anyone missed the strident ‘meat’s fine as long as it’s grass-fed and ‘humanely raised’ message of Food, Inc., or if I’m being too harshly critical, then call me on it, but I won’t back off too much. Moreover, I urge my vegetarian/vegan brethren/sistren to do likewise. Big Beef can take it; we won’t hurt their feelings.

    In fact, to borrow Toby Keith’s words: “we ain’t wrong, we ain’t sorry, and it’s probably gonna happen again!”

    Sincerely;
    Dave Hopkins

  3. Thanks, Dave, I totally agree with you on this aspect of the film.

  4. Hmm, I’m not sure I agree completely. I think if the film was truly pro-meat, they would have cut out the chicken scene. The movie definitely didn’t have a heavy-handed vegetarian message, but everyone I know who watched it says they want to get away from eating meat. Even the “good” slaughter was shown as an unappealing process. It was good to see the separation from corporate hell at that farm, but to me the chicken slaughter scene was very uncomfortable to watch. It just kind of hit home for a lot of people that no matter how “good” the farm is, if you’re eating meat, someone is killing animals for it.

    This movie wasn’t about vegetarianism vs meatism. It was about how corporate food has become, and how evil those corporations are. I’m personally glad it didn’t preach vegetarianism, because that turns a lot of people off. I’ve convinced some heavy meat-eaters to watch this movie, and it has changed them. But they are/were very anti-vegetarian and wouldn’t have kept watching if it had a heavy vegetarian/vegan message. I do, however, think this film was great at planting an anti-meat seed in many people. Leave it to some other movies to approach the vegetarian aspect, since I don’t think it was really the focus of this particular film.

  5. An undercover investigation into an organic slaughterhouse has challenged the assumption that ethically certified meat is any better than the regular kind.

  6. Cancer&Health, who did the investigation?

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