According to the World Bank, the food and agriculture sector accounts for 10% of global gross domestic product. In 2006, this was estimated to be about $4.6 trillion of a total global GDP of $48 trillion.
In the documentary Farmageddon, Kristin Canty goes on a quest to exam a tiny, but critical, component of this industry – that of local farms. Kristin, a mom turned first-time filmmaker, is on a quest to figure out why some small locally-owned farms are being raided by the government. What she discovers is a complex system of public policies and regulations that make it challenging for small family-owned farms to operate and offer their food within local communities, especially raw milk. A proponent of raw milk after it helped her son Charlie overcome his severe allergies and asthma, Kristin set out to document the plight of U.S. small farms.
Canty interviews over 30 people for the film — farmers, lawyers, authors and government officials — in an investigation to gather facts, first-hand accounts and opinions on raw milk, the farms that provide it, the people who drink it, and the officials who try to regulate it.
While informative, the film presents a clearly pro-raw milk bias. There was scarce representation from government or those on the “other side”. Kristin, in a “Michael Moore” moment, does film herself approaching government officials asking them why they raided a food co-op in Ohio. No answer was given except that they cannot talk about it because of an ongoing court trial.
Regardless of the bias, Kristin builds an informative and convincing case for supporting consumer choice in the consumption of unpasteurized milk. Although raw milk is the martyr in the film, what really made the film relevant for me was the broader implications of a food safety regulation system catered to large agribusiness. These corporations have the administrative resources and efficiencies of scale to deal with the mandatory paperwork created by public policy.
For example, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms (which is featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that caused me to join a Community Supported Agriculture program) notes that some think organic and locally grown food is only a luxury afforded to the wealthy because it costs more. However, he presents the case that providing bacon from the pigs on his farm is cost prohibitive not because of his processing costs, but the administrative costs imposed by government.
While the film provides much food for thought, it doesn’t offer much in the way of a solution. With large farms and a food system where a single bag of flour can be made from wheat from 20+ sources, there is a lack of accountability. I can appreciate that government policies are in place to ward off unsafe food.
Raw milk is an example where with anonymity and the desire to increase profit can result in unsafe milk with large public health concerns, including death. However, on local farms that are closely connected with its customers and community, accountability becomes the enforcer. I recall a conversation I had with Chef Ken Frank at La Toque Restaurant where he says he tries to source local, organic ingredients. However he will select a local over an organic source because farmers that live on the farm don’t use dangerous chemicals that will harm their family. It was a simple, vivid and memorable point.
I admire Kristin Canty for creating this film that sparks active discussion. Pulling together an 88 minute film is no easy feat and an act of true passion. If nothing else, I hope this film incites people to learn about their food.
With food freedom comes responsibility. If we want individual freedom of choice, we must ultimately hold ourselves accountable. Will the first case of unsafe raw milk increase individual vigilance, or intensify demands on government to protect us? If our answer is the latter, then we must think hard about the amount of freedom we are contemplating.
3 out of 5 stars (Recommended)
Directed by Kristin Canty
Opens September 23 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco
On the Web: www.farmageddonmovie.com