Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twinkies Are a Healthy Snack?

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Chris Taylor's latest documentary, Food Fight. Shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the lecture hall, the film chronicles the rise of big agribusiness in the 20th century and the resulting rebellion that started with the organic food movement in California. As an added bonus, Michael Ruhlman, author of thirteen books (most of which are related to food), spent about six to seven minutes introducing the film and how important the message of the film is in helping to turn around what has become a major health crisis in the United States.

Sporting an impressive list of cameos from chefs, activists, and volunteers, the film playfully weaves it's way through the history of how we got to where we are, starting with how farmers operated at the beginning at the beginning of the 20th century and how they evolved at the end of it. The film talks about a pivotal political figure, Earl Butz, who in the 1970's as the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture under Nixon, changed the way that farmers had done business for decades and instead implemented a plan for mass production of crops on an unprecedented scale.

Peppered through the movie are actual media advertisements for various products made from the products and by-products of the big agribusiness companies. One commercial is narrated by a concerned mother who states that while children need three square meals a day, sometimes between meals, they need a healthful snack. This, apparently, is where Twinkies fit in. Another commercial, extolling the virtues of a new, better form of "cheese" claims that they've replaced part of the dairy with corn oil. Sounds delicious, no?

While many of the topics that Food Fight touches on have been covered by other documentaries (such as King Corn, which I also highly recommend), the one new idea that I hadn't come across before was the rise of the California local / sustainable / organic movement headed by noted chef Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse. I had always assumed that being part of the Berkeley / 1960's hippie movement she would've already embraced the concepts of local and organic as part of her ideology even before she got into food. Not so. When she finally decided to start feeding people, her driving force was that she was determined to give people the best tasting food she could find. Through trial and error, she discovered that the local farmers who were using sustainable and organic farming methods were consistently producing better looking and better tasting produce.

The film also goes on to chronicle the rise of the farmer's market and the impact that it is now finally having on the way that chefs, restaurants, and most importantly, regular folks connect with local farmers committed to growing terrific produce that is actually tasty, good for the body and most importantly, not harmful to the Earth.

As Mr. Ruhlman noted during his introduction to the packed auditorium last night, the people in attendance weren't the people that need to see this film. It's the rest of America that needs to see Food Fight in the hope that once we understand that the food choices we make have unintended consequences, we can start to make better choices. As a nation, we need to step forward and start demanding access to food that is both healthy for us and farmed in such a way that it is healthy for the Earth.

At only 90 minutes in length, I highly recommend that you, your children, your friends and your neighbors take the time to watch this educational, humorous and sobering look at the state of our current food system. If everyone made the decision to eat just one meal a day with the principles espoused in this film, we would revolutionize the entire food business.

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