The Future of Food

I finally got around to watching The Future of Food this weekend. By now this movie has become one of the cornerstones of the local/organic/sustainable movement, often quoted and referred to and listed as a resource by such writers as Michael Pollan among others. But somehow it had sat at the foot of my Netflix queue for too long, so it was high time to watch it, and what an eye-opener it proved to be!

Made in 2004, the movie is no less chilling (if not more so) now. Deborah Koons Garcia’s investigation into the connections between government and agribusiness are frightening, and her exploration of genetically modified food does indeed make you want to head for the hills and start growing all your own food – except that if you were to do so and some of those GM seeds found their way into your garden and your life, you would end up like Percy Schmeiser, fighting the agribusiness giants with all you can muster….

Stephen Holden’s review in the New York Times summarizes the documentary very succintly:

The film poses many ticklish ethical and scientific questions:

  • Since genetic material is life, should corporations have the right to patent genes?
  • What are the long-term effects on humans of consuming genetically engineered food, which is still largely unlabeled in the United States?
  • Can the crossbreeding of wild and genetically modified plants be controlled?
  • Might genetically engineered food be the answer to world hunger? 
  • And finally, could the reduction of biodiversity, which has quickened since the introduction of genetically modified plants, lead to catastrophe?

The film’s answers to these five questions are: No. Possibly damaging. Probably not. Probably not. Possibly.

Naturally, the Goliaths of the story (represented by Monsanto) would probably cry foul, but if they were invited to comment, they didn’t show up for the interview. Instead we see plenty of spin provided by their own PR machine.

In any case, the movie definitely impresses upon the watcher that buying and eating locally from small, independent farmers and farmers’ markets  is more important than ever. Labeled or not, GM foods (aka “Frankenfoods”, a word which now appears in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary!) are everywhere in conventional stores and restaurants:

Since genetically engineered soy and corn are used in many processed foods, it is estimated that over 70 percent of the foods in grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada contain genetically engineered ingredients. (The Campaign)

Enough to make me even more convinced that it is time for Americans to vote with their forks, walk away from those oh-so-convenient processed foods that clutter our grocery store aisles, and re-learn how to cook from scratch using whole, close to the source ingredients!

The Future of Food deservedly holds its place as a cornerstone of the local/organic/sustainable food movement: as Jonathan Curiel of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “The Future of Food will motivate many of its audience members to reconsider their eating (and purchasing) habits.”

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