Tortoises; Food, INC.
July 28, 2009
I am dog-sitting and tortoise-sitting for my friend Julie. The dogs consist of one extremely sweet, extremely dull-witted Shi-Tzu* and one extremely charming Chihuahua. The tortoise is… I don’t know. About the size of a pancake. Only, obviously, more three-dimensional. Otherwise I don’t really know anything about his personality except for the fact that he constantly tries to escape (when he’s not sleeping). Like you have to take him out once a day and put him in a kind of little bath, and he’s all “I’M OUTTA HERE SUCKAS!” and then you put him back in his house and he’s all “YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!” and then he realizes that you gave him food and then he very slowly wanders over and starts nomming on the pile of greens.
The other awesome thing about the tortoise is that the Slow Shi-Tzu is obsessed with him. She gets extremely excited if she sees him out and about. If he’s on the floor, she lovingly lies down next to him and kind of embraces him with her paws. Even though the tortoise is trying to eat her the entire time.
I saw Food, INC the other night. It’s a documentary about the American food industry. It will fill you with rage, even if you’re not some kind of Vermont hippie. It’s all about outrageous corruption and deceit and corporations taking handouts from taxpayers and then turning around and BENDING TAXPAYERS OVER THE TABLE… ahem. Pretty much if the bailout made you mad, Food, INC will make you want to go to your state capitol and be the weirdo on the corner holding up a sign reading DEMAND A SAFE FOOD CHAIN NOW.
The one thing I would liked to have seen more of in the movie is something I am kind of obsessed with: food security as it relates to the fact that huge swathes of our food production are way too closely related.
About 90% of all soybeans grown in this country are GM soybeans sold by a single scary corporation. Depending on your politics, you may find that splendid, a real triumph of capitalism, or scandalous. But unless you are a rare breed of, um, slow Shi-Tzu, you will probably find it kind of alarming that a major base of the food-chain pyramid that feeds you and your family and every other family in the country (and many families around the globe!) has very little genetic diversity. Even a generation ago, individual farmers saved open-pollinated crop seeds from one season to the next, picking out the best seeds from the best plants, creating a kind of sub-breed exactly adapted to their micro-climate. But in the charge to increase production (or, you know, profits for giant corporations) we’ve since wound up with this system where most people who grow soy are growing basically the exact same plant, coast to coast, border to border: they – and almost all other soy farmers – have to purchase the seeds each year from the single scary corporation.
Pretty much all you need is one freaky airborne fungus to come through that this particular soy has no resistance to, and entire crops could be lost. Soy and its many derivatives are in everything. It’s not just tofu-munching hippies who would lose out if we lost a year’s worth of soybeans. Same goes for corn. Same goes, weirdly, for a lot of our dairy cattle- YOU LIKE CHEESE, right? Then it should kind of give you pause to realize that lots of the dairy cows born every year are half-sisters of each other, because the dairy industry naturally pushes for higher and higher output, so if you have a bull who sires good milkers, you, uh, take his semen and freeze it and sell it to dairy farmers all around the country. So again, you end up with these clusters of highly efficient cows (whoo!), who are too closely related to have a good spread of resistance to weird diseases that may yet pop up (boo!)
I have no illusions that Food, INC. will change anything, because I kind of suspect that people who are interested in seeing it are people who already think about things like safe food supplies and feed lots and how E Coli ends up in the food supply (THE ANSWER IS: FEED LOTS) and why we subsidize corn even though it’s grown by giant monolithic corporations who should probably not be subsidized by taxpayers. But, you know… it’s a good movie. I also thought it was reasonably even-handed. It does not present organic farming as some kind of pastoral fantasy. It shows Joel Salatin** slaughtering chickens, and the chickens are not like “La la la, organic farming is the BEST!” (although in comparison to the Tyson and Perdue chicken farms shown earlier, you know… the Salatin chickens are basically like the old dude in Soylent Green who gets to drift off while listening to music and watching a slide show of nature.)
I had a meeting last week, and there wasn’t any parking. I mean… there WAS parking, but they were all labeled spots, spots labeled things like “SORKIN”. So I parked somewhere and ran in and asked the assistant where I should park, and this other writer sitting there waiting said: “You should park in Aaron Sorkin’s spot.”
And I said: “Ha ha ha.”
And he said: “Seriously, what could go wrong?” because of course Aaron Sorkin seems like the kind of guy who is SUPER easy-going about finding someone else in his spot.
(I did not actually park in Aaron Sorkin’s spot. They found me plebe parking elsewhere, thank you.)
Ah, meetings, where other writers try to TRIP YOU UP SO THEY CAN GET THE JOB…
*Seriously. Have you ever wondered if there is such a thing as a retarded dog? This dog, bless her heart, answers the question.
**Joel Salatin, a nice Christian-libertarian type who runs a traditional farm in the Shenandoah Valley, is super-famous to a certain kind of person. Do you ever think about how weird stuff like that is? Like I bet I could poll 50 people and most of them would go “…who?” and then two of them would go “OMG POLYFACE FARMS I WISH TO SEE IT BEFORE I DIE!!!!!!!!”