While the movie "Good Food" spotlights organic farming in America's Pacific Northwest, if you've been paying any attention to the mood of consumers across this nation who are weary of contaminated food and wary of what's in the meat, produce, eggs, and other food items they purchase in supermarkets, you may have noticed a quiet but profound revolution. In their landmark documentary, Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin are not merely offering the viewer just a few more hundred facts about our food supply, but rather, sharing an intimate portrait of an emotional, perhaps even spiritual movement that is burgeoning in the United States in search of heartfelt connections around a fundamental human need: eating. I highly recommend viewing this documentary and sharing its message and mandate in one's local community.
To examine the movie and the movement, consider that organic farming in the Pacific Northwest is increasing by 20-30% each year. Consider also that the number one cause of death among small farmers is suicide. Of course, the latter statistic is not unique to the United States. Physicist and activist, Vandana Shiva, has passionately pointed out the relationship between massive suicides among farmers in India and the amount of debt foisted on them by the influences of industrial agriculture in that nation. However, as David Suzuki in "Good Food" argues: The bill for large agriculture is coming due. I believe that it is coming due not only in terms of these suicides, but in a revolutionary demand for food that is grown locally and organically.
This is remarkable given that organic food just simply costs more. Not using pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals is more expensive, and organic farmers and markets assert that people need to get over the idea that local food should be cheap. But perhaps for the first time since the Great Depression and the Victory Gardens of World War II, people are beginning to make sacrifices in order to eat clean, local, nutritious food. Almost daily we are bombarded with studies that confirm that what we eat dramatically affects our bodies and minds, and unprecedented numbers of individuals are now willing to pay more in order to consume food that protects rather than infects.
Ron Sims, interviewed in "Good Food", who works for King County Government in the Seattle area is adamant that what we eat is an enormous factor in our future health. If we want to reduce the number of people with diabetes and obesity, he says, we have to increase the accessibility of fresh foods in all of our neighborhoods. Thus for King County, eating local is a public health issue, and people are assigned to work on it all the time. Sims also notes that the Washington State Legislature is saying that schools should have preference for locally grown products. If current proposed legislation on this issue is passed, it would be monumental because kids would begin to know the taste of fresh food, rates of obesity would decrease, and a close relationship between local farmers and school districts would be formed which would also enhance King County's economy.
Relationships created by the local food movement are central to its success. Throughout the documentary this theme runs like a red thread from farmers to markets to restaurants to consumers.
One part of the film focuses on the enormous role of Latino farmers and farm workers in producing our food. Hilario Alvarez of Alvarez Family Farms, famous for his jalapeno peppers, is very concerned about the health of his customers and does not want to grow any produce with pesticides or chemicals. Small organic farms are more labor intensive, the documentary reveals, and vast numbers of farm workers are required for planting, tending, and harvesting. If there were no farm workers, there would be no agriculture left in this country says Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community, a development organization in Bellingham, Washington. Malaquias Flores of Washington State University states that the future of agriculture in America is in the hands of Latino farmers. These farmers are some of the best in the world because they bring with them the skills of growing exquisite produce in other countries such as Mexico. In an era of xenophobia regarding illegal immigrants, I believe that we need to consider carefully the vital role of immigrant farm workers in food production and distribution.
Since there are 10 calories of fossil fuel energy in every calorie of food we consume, and since volatility in energy prices and climate change are radically influencing food production and distribution, the only food security we may be able to establish is in local, organic growing. We can perceive this as a threat, or instead, as David Suzuki notes, "Climate change is not all disaster." It's an opportunity to redesign the way we're living and rediscover new values. "What lies at the end," he says, "is a richer, fuller, healthier life."
Doc Hatfield and his family raise cattle in Eastern Oregon. They manage their livestock in a very hands-on way. Because of the way they are managed, the livestock actually improve the land, and their meat is healthier to eat. Small ranchers are a dying breed, but the Hatfields have survived by joining other ranchers in a marketing cooperative. Customers who buy meat raised by these ranchers begin to develop a relationship with them because they appreciate knowing where the meat came from and who raised it. In turn, the ranchers feel as if they have given a part of themselves and their land to customers. Long story short, the locally grown organic food movement is a natural and ingenious way to build community.
But what is it that is drawing people to farmers markets?
Mark Musick of the Tilth Association asserts that it's about the desire to connect with our neighbors and the sources of our food and the land.
In fact, this is precisely why I believe that the local organic food movement is far more than a passing fancy. Rather, I believe its resonance with the American consumer lies deeper than even economics or nutrition. Industrial civilization has created a culture of consumption in which we have traded our desire and need for community for "things". As that civilization can no longer deliver the promises it has made because it is clearly collapsing, and as consumers starved for community experience profound connections with farmers, small markets, animals, and the land itself, the soul of food is becoming as important as its capacity to please the palate and fill our stomachs. Our ancestors experienced the myriad relationships involved in food production on a small, local scale. Until recently, we had lost that sense of relationship-an awareness, however fleeting, that the most heartfelt food chain is not the biological one, but the one that connects us with the community of life on earth.
"Good Food" documents the beginning of a movement--a revolution of relationships, and who knows what economic, political, social, and spiritual reverberations it could engender on this planet.