by Eileen Weber
A friend of mine bought into a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this summer. But this week, she was going to be on vacation and wondered if I would like to take her share. Sure, why not? I had thought about buying into a CSA. But, I reconsidered. I thought my family wouldn’t eat that much food. What’s the point of fresh food if it goes to waste?
But I stopped off at the CSA this week and picked up beets, baby carrots, leeks, peaches, nectarines, yellow squash, zucchini, and red eggplants. A vegetarian feast! I used the eggplant and squashes in a ratatouille. (Delish.) I will make soup with the leeks. (Yum.) The nectarines I will grill and serve with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of local honey. (There is no expletive to suitably describe this one.)
With all that luscious organically grown food, the word “fresh” comes to mind. That’s exactly the kind of eating we should be doing, at least according to Ana Sofia Joanes. She is the producer and director of FRESH: New Thinking About What We’re Eating. Originally opening on May, the film debuted in Southport Wednesday night at the Pequot Library.
These days, food never seems to be too far from the media. The selection of Tom Vilsack as the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture was a heated debate earlier this year. Anything written or spoken by Michael Pollan, author of such titles as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, indicating his position on food, how it is raised, and how what we eat affects us. And most recently, the release of Food, Inc., a movie based on the industrialization of farming in this country. The spotlight is trained on what we eat.
Much like the documentary Food, Inc., FRESH takes a hard look at the food industry and what local farmers are doing about it. Antibiotics. Hormones. Feed made from dead cows. These are the things that organic farmers are taking stand against. And for good reason. They cause more problems than they solve.
“Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience,” said Will Allen, an organic urban farmer of Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wis., and one of the farmers highlighted in the documentary. “We don’t want to think about who’s growing it or if there’s a chemical residue on it.”
Scenes of hurling buckets of baby chicks on the floor of an industrialized barn, cows eating contaminated grain subsequently becoming violently ill and unable to walk, pigs covered in their own feces. These animals are the faces of what farming has become, not what it should be.
“We need to respect the design of nature,” said Joel Salatin, an organic farmer of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va., who was featured in FRESH and Food, Inc. for his environmentally friendly methods of farming. “Going down the line, what you’ll hear is nature screaming to our industrialized culture: Enough! We have to look at nature as a template. Let the chicken have its ‘chicken-ness’, the cow have its ‘cow-ness’, and the pig have its ‘pig-ness’.”
Russ Kremer, a farmer from Frankenstein, Mo., used antibiotics in the past. But when he was gored by one of his own hogs and his ensuing infection resisted traditional antibiotics, he took a drastic step. He exterminated his entire drove and started over.
“These pigs have not received any antibiotics for 14 years now,” he said. “We don’t treat sick hogs because we don’t have to.”
Kremer farms organically and refuses to use any antibiotics or hormones in his feed. “I saved over $14,000 in vet bills in just the first year after exterminating the last herd,” he said.
Feeding harmful contaminants to livestock doesn’t only affect the animals. It affects all of us. The agricultural run-off from industrialized farms contaminates the waterways. “Chemical agriculture is like a drug trip,” said Salatin. “It takes more and more every year to get the same kick.”
But it is the process of industrialized farming that allows food to be sold cheaply. While a dozen eggs might cost as little as $1.79 at your local supermarket, your organic farmer who probably knows his chicken by name still charges you over twice that amount.
“Cheap food is an illusion. There is no such thing as cheap food,” said Michael Pollan in the documentary. “The real cost of the food is paid somewhere and, if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment…or it’s charged to your health.”
When I brought all those fresh fruits and vegetables home from the CSA, I thought about the film. I am giving my family the fruits of someone else’s labor who actually cares about the land. And because I care about my family’s health and well-being, I care about the land, too.
“Food is at the foundation,” said Allen. “But it’s really about life.”
Photos courtesy of FRESH, Polyface Farms, and Growing Power.