Wednesday nights screening of American Meat at CWU’s S.U.R.C. Theater was well attended by students as well as local farmers and ranchers. The film covered issues that concern conventional farmers as well as organic farmers and the push/pull between the two worlds, but mostly the content focused on the instability of our current food system and what this means to our national security and economy. Interviews with conventional poultry and hog farmers reveal how agriculture has fallen to the hands of large corporations that act as the middlemen of the food system, leaving the farmer and the consumer to struggle with the economics and quality of the whole system. Much like our current health system, it is nearly an impossibility for the consumer or the producer to receive a fair deal while there is a line between the two parties whose goal and obligation it is to maximize profits for its shareholders. Under this model, the farmer doesn’t receive a fair price for his labor and the consumer doesn’t receive a quality product. Meanwhile, taxpayers are unknowingly picking up the bill for this system in the form of crop subsidies that benefit the corporate agriculture businesses more than the tax paying consumer/producer.
The film spent a good amount of time with Polyface Farm in Virginia, the home of Joel Salatin and his family. They have become an icon of local food and small farm movement with their back to basics approach to production and direct to consumer marketing. As a result, Polyface produces a superior product over the conventional system both in taste and nutrition without government subsidies or large fossil fuel inputs. The film also presents some statistics regarding what it would take to move all of agriculture back to a system such as Joel’s, a system that was essentially well established before World War II and points out that the average age of farmers today is 57 meaning that fewer and fewer young people are going into agriculture as a way of life or a means to support their family. To get away from what agriculture has become today it would be necessary for a portion of americans to move into agriculture but also for consumers to find it beneficial to pay more for quality food, a tough sell for many americans who struggle to make ends meet. The bottom line is that it will be a grassroots effort for americans to impose a new food system for their country by getting involved. More small farms need to be founded outside of all metropolitan areas rather than crops and livestock being produced on large farms, in concentrated areas and being trucked around the country every step of the way to the consumer. We currently spend 10% of our income on food as a nation while other developed countries spend 40% and until the economics between subsidies and land issue are resolved, it is unlikely that americans will be able to make the tough decisions to pay more for quality food produced by small local farms.
Finally, Tip Hudson offered an article written by Jerry L. Holechek titled “National Security and Rangelands” where he explores what it will mean to reach peak oil, a threat that is likely not far away. He considers this more threatening than global warming and terrorism in regards to our security as a nation and our way of life. The costs associated with globalization, transporting foods and goods around the globe on a constant basis, farming less at home and depending heavily on imported crops while we devote more and more range and farm land to sprawl and preserves will leave us kicking ourselves if not starving, leaving americans holding the bill for our current choices in agriculture.