Sunday, July 31, 2011

Food Inc.

rice artI hadn't watched it originally, because I didn't expect it to provide any new information. It didn't...but it was a brilliant piece of propaganda. Propaganda in the perfectly neutral sense, not: the Nazis telling each other how much better the world would be 'if we could grind those dirty Slavs under our perfectly clean boots,' sort of propaganda.

Just as an example: in the beginning of the movie they pan across some of the vast cornfields in the midwest. This was a great move, because you can say that there are around 92.3 million acres (sic) devoted to growing maize and 75.2 million acres (sic) is devoted to soybean production. All of it's true. But trying to make people understand the scale of our grain/seed production is nigh on impossible. Spending a good minute scrolling over vast fields is a start though. It doesn't matter that it was only the tiniest fraction of what's probably in the surrounding area, it makes an impact on people, which is what the entire film is about.
It takes a lot of space to feed the animals that feed over 300 million people, and it would still take a mindboggling amount of space to feed us even if we all became vegetarians at this very instant, but we don't even eat all of it, we export around 1,850 million bushels a year(that's around twice the amount that we use to make HFCs and all that junk.)

Our exports are one of the issues that Food Inc brings up: because curiously the subsidies that create low grain prices here in the U.S affect other countries (we don't live in a vacuum, who'da thunk?) This means (simplistically) that Mexican subsistence farmers who grow maize can't afford to grow their own food and get to look for work here in the U.S. There are only so many menial tasks to go around, but the slaughterhouses have their arms open wide, so a large number of "undocumented" immigrants end up working for low pay in terrible conditions. Why is this not "slavery?" Beats me. There's also a lot of debt slavery, chicken farmers who are hundred's of thousands of dollars in debt and make maybe 20,000 a year (I assume that's after taxes, but still..) because the companies they sell to also loan them the money to build chicken coops and dictate how the chickens are cared for. This happens in other livestock situations, but they talked about chickens. Probably because the daily removal of a dozen or so dead chickens was visually impacting.

"From seed to the supermarket" was a great way to explain this vertical integration (whether it's technically vertical integration or not, that's how they were explaining it) and the consolidation of control in a few large production companies. The good thing about this is that if one company decides to make a beneficial change that makes a huge impact on the whole market; the bad part is that the standardization and lack of variety -- in fact the industrialization -- of our food production has actually increased the quantity, but decreased the quality of our food (compare ancient einkorn and emmer protein percentages to modern wheat's for instance.) This was happening before the Green Revolution, but the process has been accelerated by genetic modification and other new agricultural methods. Not only is our food lower in quality (and flavor, but that's secondary) but because of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria it's actively unsafe.

I felt very uneasy about the meat safety section. They had a mother who lost her toddler to a particularly nasty serotype of E. Coli. Of course I feel bad for her, and of course I understand that one person talking about their little kid has a more personal impact than saying "16 people died yesterday due to contaminated meat," but I still felt like I was being manipulated. What she wanted was more regulation and because of how things work here in America I doubt that it would help much. It's rather like unions, they were wonderful and completely necessary in the first part of the century, but they're of limited utility now that certain well delineated rights and protections are established. Currently they're really only good for hampering decision-making and providing teachers I know with some way to complain about non-voluntary organizations. What meat companies should be forced into is labelling meat batches, and they shouldn't be allowed to impinge on people's free speech. They also should actually pull "recalled" meat off the market, the woman in question later found out that her son had eaten meat that was supposedly recalled some time before and people were still serving it.

They had several people who were unwilling to speak (because they depend on these large companies for their livelihoods,) but there's also the fact that people are prosecuted when they say anything negative about the structure or production methods or either agricultural development companies like Monsanto or livestock processing companies like Tyson.

Documentaries like that are created in order to increase awareness. They are basically proseltyzing, which is a technique that I don't have a problem with. It really depends on what the "cause" is. How else are you supposed to tell people about something? And even if you could do it perfectly neutrally, who would then have an incentive to educate anyone on a specific subject. They don't have any viewpoint that they want to promulgate, so the argumentative basis of human logic is ignored, so not only do people not have a reason to "teach" but other people aren't convinced, they don't understand as easily and they don't remember.

That's one thing I found very striking: the end. A lot of the time you'll leave a movie/documentary feeling all fired up and thinking "This must be stopped! We're going to make the world better!" but without anything real to do. So what they did at the end of the movie was list real, achievable goals for individuals. They didn't say: "We need to stop this" or some other diffuse thing, they didn't even say "buy organic..blah blah." They said "Eat more vegetables... cook at local produce.. because businesses have to respond to their consumers" all sensible things, which a lot of us could figure out, but they were definite and practical. That's how people remember and how things get changed.

by the way, the resources I've linked to may not be the best of everything available, but I didn't link directly to voluminous sources. Those are easily found, but I felt it would disrupt the flow of thought. It's all verifiable. If you have better and equally condensed resources please tell me.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The super-inconvenient truth

I admit, I continue to hold beliefs that are somewhat inconsistent and irrational because it is too painful for me to face the truth. Here are a few of my unwarranted -- well let's just be blunt, they're irredeemably stupid -- assumptions:

There must be a problem with the Google News algorithms, because people can't really be more interested in the Prince of England's wedding than natural disasters, scientific discoveries or actually important political developments.

A vast number of people forged their college certificates rather than managing to escape university intellectually unscathed, without the critical thinking skills or creativity necessary to hold a moderately interesting conversation.

My time could be better spent arguing with the sort of people who try to convince me of the objective superiority of relativism than knitting or repeatedly banging my head against a table.

People do not really spend their time writing what ends up being millions of fanfics, they are all created by simple literary generator with an tendency towards using lurid adjectives. And of course no one reads these fanfics; it's a purely intellectual exercise.

There are not people in the world (whom I happen to know and love) who believe that we should cut government spending while providing more "free" public healthcare. ..and these are not the same people that complained about "socialized medicine" in Britain.

Even if all of the above beliefs are false, I'm not certainly doomed to a life of lonely elitism, which will slowly ripen into a simplistic and undiscriminating sort of jerkiness.