Saturday, December 24, 2011

How a four-year-old film gave me my resolution

Three nights ago I watched Food, Inc. I have two words: Holy Shit.

If you've not seen this film, I urge you to do so. It WILL change the way you shop, the way you eat, and the way you think about food, corporations, and possibly even the United States.

Now, look. Fat Prattler didn't get fat because she has a glandular problem. Fat Prattler is fat because she has an EATING problem. And Fat Prattler has been yo-yo-ing for the better part of the last 30 years. That's another post for another time, but I'll tell you this much: no issue has EVER made me want to change my eating habits more than this film did. When I was younger it was the desire to look hot. As I got older it became the desire to look younger. A few years ago it was the threat of dying before my time of some awful obesity-related illness , the fear of suffering the indignity of dropping dead in public or of being found in some stage of decomposition in my bed. The reasons for my myriad stages of loss and gain, my peaks and valleys of weight and size, are as varied as the numbers on the scale over the years. But none have been as compelling as this film.

How many people REALLY know where their food comes from? How many people eat like shit day in and day out because it's all they can afford? How many people are really not affected by images of factory farms, with dirty, weak, antibiotic-laden, manure-caked animals stuffed into dark stalls? How many people would think twice before buying Tyson products after seeing how they abuse animals, mistreat workers, and bully farmers? How many people would change just one habit in an attempt to effect some change? I certainly can't be the only one.

I've grown complacent in a lot of areas. I'm not as outspoken on a lot of issues as I once was. It's been years since I marched on Washington for any reason. But I'm riled up enough at this point to make some real changes in my life, and I hope to eventually encourage others to do the same by demonstrating and leading by example.

So my resolution for 2012 is to heighten my awareness on ALL levels about what I'm putting in my body. It's physical, it's mental, it's emotional, it's environmental, and it's political. I'm sick of being fat, and I'm sick of feeling powerless. I need to be more aware of what's going through my head, and I need to be more aware of where my food is coming from. I'm not okay with supporting companies that abuse animals and their workers. I'm not okay with artificial growth hormones and pesticides and chemically ripened vegetables. I'm not okay with Monsanto and Purdue bullying farmers into massive debt with no return on their investment. I'm not okay with the US Government blocking attempts at regulation of safety and quality of our food supply. I've been mad about a lot of things in this country, you know, but that...that just nailed it for me. Just nailed it. DONE.

You know what did it for me? The Tyson farmer who talked. She lost her contract because she wouldn't "upgrade" to closed-wall chicken houses, where the chickens never see the light of day. She had dozens of dead chickens every day. She explained that the hormones they give the chickens in the feed and the rapid growth and lack of space cause the chickens to get so fat so fast they can't support their own weight. Their internal organs simply give out, or their legs break under their weight and they starve or get trampled. Most can't walk more than a few feet before they fall over from exhaustion. And when the workers come in to do a pickup of the chicken houses, the chickens are kicked, picked up by their heads, and thrown around.

Beef and pork factory farms are even worse. I could go into detail about factory farming vs. free-range farming and how just looking at the animals kept in each environment can clearly indicate the difference between the two, but I would rather encourage you to watch the film for yourself and form your own opinion. I would rather you research the staggering rates of childhood obesity and Type-2 diabetes and make your own judgment. We as a nation are the most unhealthy we have ever been, and for an industrialized nation, it's disgraceful. This generation coming up now is not expected to surpass their parents' life expectancy. The American people are being fed poisonous, unhealthy food in the interest of lining corporate coffers, and if you're not the teensiest bit pissed about that, then...well, I don't know what to tell you.

It's hard to get local produce in the winter here in the Rust Belt, obviously, but my changes are going to start by shopping more in-season and hitting the farmers' markets every chance I have. I'm going to plant my own vegetable garden in my backyard next spring. I'm going to eat less meat. A lot less. And when I do eat it, I'm going to buy it from a local butcher committed to purchasing from local farms that grass-feed and do not use hormones or antibiotics. I don't care if it costs more. It all comes out in the wash, as far as I am concerned, when you weigh the health benefits associated with a healthier, fresher, more raw and organic diet. I went on a weekend retreat a few months ago where I did a raw food cleanse, and was told that the closer you eat to the earth, the less food your body needs to sustain itself. And I believe it. That whole weekend I lived on raw soups and smoothies, and I was *never* hungry. The way I see it, if I'm going to eat meat, it makes sense to eat an animal that ate grass and wandered freely and breathed fresh air while it was alive.

When I was in Thailand last year, I was struck by just how fresh everything is there. I ate in restaurants that had their own fish farms in the adjacent bodies of water. I ate in food stalls that had gardens behind the building. I went to markets filled with locals peddling their fruits and vegetables and spices and meats. And you could do this for next to nothing. Food in Thailand is cheap, it's fresh, and it's healthy. Hell, most places you can walk outside and pick a banana right off the tree. I was there for a month and I don't think I've ever felt better. I don't understand why we, as a nation, can't feed our people better. We rail against overseas sweatshops, but the way these corporations like Tyson, Smithfield, and Purdue treat their workers is every bit as despicable. We race to help countries suffering famines, and yet we willingly patronize corporations that are feeding us garbage devoid of any real nutritional value. We express outrage against countries who chop appendages off of thieves, yet we tolerate farmers being bled dry and run into the ground by corporations who cut their lifelines. (The average contracted farmer is $500,000 in debt yet only makes $18,000 a year). We engage in wars in the name of "human rights," and yet in our own backyards children are dying of new, antibiotic-resistant strains of foodborne illnesses and the government won't help. We are all about "free speech," but remember what happened to Oprah when she questioned the safety of ground beef?

Give me a break. We are not free in this country. And I don't care if Monsanto, the FBI, and the fucking president of Tyson Foods show up at my door tomorrow. I'm fired up.

I'm going to change my habits not because I want to be thin, but because I have a conscience, and because I'm angry. Henry Rollins said, "I use my anger to go out and get shit done. If you don't get really pissed about it, it won't change." And it's true.

Watch the film.