food films

American Meat

Summer Film FestThis year, the store decided that it would be nice to have a screening during each month of the summer. It was my job to track down the films that would be shown.

My choice for June was “American Meat.” The film did a great job of breaking down our current food system in 85 minutes. It began by outlining how the current system operates including industrial farming, the dependence on oil, and the vertically integrated system of farming in which farmers don’t own the animals they raise. It also talked about the sobering issue of small towns dying out, a trend that is continuing to increase as the size of industrial farms increases. Did you know that a conventional farmer only receives eight cents out of every dollar made from his animals? Isn’t that staggering?

Then a different path is shown, one in which Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm is a guiding light. As a grass-based farmer and a man who has thought outside of the box when incorporating green solutions to make his farm healthier and more efficient, Salatin has become quite the star of the new food movement. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a talented teacher and speaker, as well as being passionate of what he does for a living. In stark contrast to the vertically integrated system, Polyface Farm keeps every dollar made from their animals.

But can a grass-based farm feed this country? “Theoretically, yes,” the film tells us. This country has more than enough pasture and farm land to allow it to happen. The hitch — we need 4 million people to start farming the way Salatin does, with rotation methods. Though more and more young people are becoming interested in going back to the land, that’s an awful lot of new farmers required.

That’s where the consumer’s power comes in. It’s up to us as consumers to support smaller farms, organic production, Farmers Markets, CSAs, buying clubs, and stores and restaurants sourcing local food including (perhaps surprisingly) places like Chipotle. With more demand, more organic farms will be needed.

I think my favorite part of this film — aside from Joel Salatin — is the way in which farmers were depicted. Organic or conventional, every farmer was dedicated to what they were doing, feeding people. It was heartening to watch a documentary that celebrated the hard work and human-ness of all farmers.

And a caveat — there are a couple of scenes of chickens being harvested. I think it’s good for omnivores to be aware of how their meat is harvested, so it was good to show. If you’re very squeamish, there will be a couple of scenes where it may be prudent to look away for a moment.

“American Meat” shows in BriarPatch’s Community Room on Friday, June 28 at 7:00 p.m. Make sure to come early, as Salatin’s a popular guy to watch and seating is limited.

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