It’s been a while since Food, Inc. and FRESH, and their cousins King Corn and Fast Food Nation, came on the scene – hailing from a family of films that have delved into the complexities of our modern food system, tackled the interconnected web that includes corn subsidies, industrial farming, obesity and environmental degradation, and lauded various solutions including agricultural policy reform, sustainable farming methods, community gardening, and eating, as Michael Pollan and many others have recommended, “real food.” If you’ve been jonesing for your food movie fix, you’re in luck. The newest addition to the family is Farmageddon: The Unseen War on American Family Farms, and it’s coming to the Twin Cities this month.
Kristen Canty, a mom of four, became a devoted buyer of local, organic food after successfully treating her son’s allergies with raw milk. The movie traces her quest to determine why the small, family farms she believes in supporting are being threatened and why, according to the movie’s website, “Americans’ right to access fresh, healthy foods of their choice is under attack.” She explores government policies that support Big Ag, and the over-regulation that has simply put a Band-Aid over the food safety issues inherent in our industrial food system, rather than address the issues at their source. On an annoying level, these policies have created mountains of paperwork, high fees, and massive headaches for small-scale farmers who don’t have a personal secretary or much extra time on their hands. And on a more serious level, the strict, often extremely inordinate enforcement of these policies has been witnessed in raids, interrogations, property confiscation and shut-downs that later have proved baseless, and have limited people’s ability to feed their families the food they believe is most healthy. (The above photo is of a raid on the Meadowsweet Farm in New York state.)
After a viewing of the film, I frankly was left feeling only lukewarm about it. While the general message came through loud and clear, it felt at times over-dramatized (the Armageddon reference should have been my first hint) and one-sided (I was grateful to have come armed with a little knowledge about the raw milk debate). I may have been placing an unfair burden on it: Farmageddon arrives on the heels of the aforementioned other members of the food movie family, at a time when Michael Pollan is making appearances on Oprah and the word “locavore” has been added to the dictionary. The movement that strives to educate consumers, influence policymakers, and rebuild our food system is no longer in its infancy. I would be thrilled if the next foodie movie I saw stepped away from sweeping generalizations and took on the admittedly much more difficult task of presenting arguments with facts behind them, addressing and admitting to complexities and areas of uncertainty, bringing in varying opinions, and providing viewers with the knowledge and tools to affect change.
Certainly, the issues the film brings up are very real. Some of the farmers who’s stories are told have had their livelihoods irreparably damaged, and for many people in our country – whether due to too many regulations or living too far from a grocery store – its easier to get a hold of a Big Mac than a fresh glass of milk or locally grown greens. Maybe asking for the whole story in 90 minutes is just too hard, and I would guess that hashing out the complexities on the big screen wouldn’t make for a compelling movie – which is why I was pleased to hear about the local expert panel that’s scheduled to follow the October 15 film screening at St. Anthony Main. The information presented in the film is important, but only if we use it as a jumping-off point to continue to learn about the issues, encourage discussion, bring various players and viewpoints to the table, and have genuine conversation about how we can work collaboratively to build a better food system.
The movie and panel discussion will take place on Saturday, October 15 at St. Anthony Main Theater at 1:30 pm. Or, see the film alone on Sunday, October 16 at Bryant Lake Bowl at 3:00 pm. For more information and tickets, visit www.farmesota.com.
Georgia Rubenstein works at an environmental non-profit in Minneapolis, studies urban planning at the Humphrey School, and loves food in all of its forms -- growing it, cooking it, eating it, feeding it to her worms, and then starting the cycle all over. In all of her spare time, she can be found philosophizing about food, considering food policy issues, and working to harness the incredible power of food to save the world. Her last article for us was: Garden Tour, Love Story, Culinary Delight: A Picnic Operetta.