It must have been out of sheer cosmic coincidence that Oprah Winfrey decided to feature clips from Robert Kenner’s film, Food, Inc. on her show last week. I had just finished watching it myself the day before and was frantically trying to figure out how to go about setting up my own farm: I’d have one cow for milk, a few chickens for meat, more hens for eggs, possibly a pig and loads of vegetables. Hmm. Can you send pigs out “to be processed?” You get the idea. I went so far as to fantasize about soliciting a group of like-minded neighbors who’d like to share this farm with my family.
Then, miraculously, Oprah got the word out for me.
If you are American and you haven’t see Food, Inc., please consider doing so. Dollars to doughnuts it will make you angry and sad. (I know, sounds like a fun date.) But seriously, don’t you want to know where your food comes from? I’ve heard some people become vegetarian on the spot after watching this film. Decide for yourself what you think of this movie.
Some take-home messages of the film are:
- Only a few large multinational corporations control most of the meat sold in our supermarkets.
- Farmers can no longer save their seeds, or they risk being investigated and prosecuted for infringement of patent laws (during which process they will probably “lose the farm.”)
- Animals raised for food are treated abominably, by and large.
- The meat packers processing the animals are treated poorly. Many are recent and/or illegal immigrants from Mexico who used to be corn farmers there, but who couldn’t survive when cheap, subsidized American corn inundated their country.
- Animals that naturally eat grass are forced to eat corn instead, leading to health safety issues for us and the animals.
- It’s cheaper to buy processed junk food than it is to buy vegetables, since the majority of these cheap calories come from subsidized foods like corn, soy and wheat.
I no longer blame America’s farmers for feeding us processed foods containing inordinate amounts of corn and soy. I understand better the constraints of those farmers, constantly fighting to make it in a system that dictates exactly what they need to plant, what they must feed their animals and how to tend to both. I cheer for smaller farms like Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. His animals are happy, his food is high-quality and the environment doesn’t get trampled under his model.
Adding to the perfect storm brewing in my brain was Facebook’s FarmVille. Please don’t imagine that I have oodles of time to play computer games, and yet I seem to have become hooked on this one. It all started so innocuously: I planted a few crops, some friends helped me rake leaves and gave me a cow and my farm slowly grew. How exciting to earn enough coins to plant new and different crops. The cherry and plum trees are so pretty!
It quickly became clear that I could easily fill up my allotted farm space and have nowhere to place that starfruit tree gifted by friends. In order to expand in FarmVille, you must pay with Farm Cash, which can be bought with REAL cash – or slowly and painstakingly earned with each level advanced.
Suddenly, it became all about the (farm) money. A few weeks into the game I realized that I could “buy” completely useless colored hay bales to earn the experience points I’d need to advance a level and win the coveted Farm Cash reward. I bought and sold hay bales like crazy, only to get one unsatisfying step closer to expansion.
Then something clicked in my brain! Was I sowing the seeds of agribusiness? When did it stop being about the crops, about the animals? Sure, a farmer needs to survive, but how does buying and selling hay bales have anything to do with farming?
To add insult to injury, I realized that soybeans were an obvious, cheap answer to growing my farm. Plant lots of soy and earn money quickly. I pictured those soybean crops transforming into the soybean oil ubiquitous in our American food.
Young children are not allowed Facebook accounts for obvious reasons, but our seven-year-old son does help his dad with his farm. What messages is he learning from this game? After taking a deep breath, I started to chronicle the good things about FarmVille:
- Cows, goats, sheep and pigs roam around on beautiful green pasture.
- You can buy a chicken coop, but the chickens can also be out in the sunshine making vitamin D and eating bugs and worms to make nutritious eggs.
- I can pretend that the “fertilizer” is organic chicken manure.
- There is no option to spray pesticides. There’s even an Organic FarmVille Facebook page!
- Farming is a lot of work. It takes care, effort and planning to get our food to us.
It’s cute, but a little unfortunate that FarmVille keeps us at arm’s length from the realities of meat processing. For example, when a pig is ready to harvest, we “collect truffles.” The goats and cows only give us milk, not meat. We collect eggs from the chickens instead of eating the whole bird. Rabbits are raised for their angora hair.
On balance, I think FarmVille is a step in the right direction. Education about our food supply is so important right now. Maybe our children can learn what farms used to be like so that they can help to model the farms of the future. Then we can take baby steps away from the agribusiness food factory and walk steadily toward the real farm of tomorrow.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.
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