Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Combing Through Campaigns

<y day there someone new telling us what to eat. There is corporate advertisement, the “Michael Pollans” of the world, PETA, and legions of consumer groups advocating for reform. At times, “food issues” appear to be nothing more than fragmented, skewed news. In this mess of health fads and single-issue activism, it becomes harder to grasp the larger systematic issues and enact meaningful food systems reform.

Certain topics, like kale and quinoa, going organic, the honey-bee crisis, or GMO labeling command the media, while other issues like justice for food workers or broken crop insurance policies fall to the wayside. Yet each issue, trendy or overlooked, is still an issue, and we need to understand all of them. Such fragmented and numerous sources of information speak to a central concern; the shear difficulty of accurately assessing the health and environmental impacts of the food we eat.

The fact that food – a life force so central to culture, happiness, and health – is at the same time so shrouded in mystery is a larger societal dilemma in and of itself. It seems we cannot get a clear picture of the processes that bring food to our plates without also being served someone’s personal agenda, and this is unsettling.

The documentary, Our Daily Bread, spends two hours showing different scenes from our industrial food system. There is no commentary, just uncomfortably long shots of mechanical tomato harvesters, chicken vacuums, olive tree shakers, and automated fish dismantlers. These scenes are all industrial, unfamiliar, and almost science fiction. Even as someone who has studied the food system at length, the images presented were barely recognizable. Most of us have not seen, let alone considered, the processes behind “our daily bread.” Simply seeing our food system is a way to get the larger picture above the “niche issue” noise. However, it is increasingly hard to come by. Just this summer, journalists have been putting together a lawsuit against “Ag Gag” laws in several US states. These laws prevent people from filming within factory farms or sharing unfavorable facts about the food industry, which companies can deem to be “libel.” Such lawsuits bring to light how difficult it is to find complete and transparent information about food systems.

But such transparency issues are relatively new. A few hundred years ago we stopped growing and foraging our own food, and there are a lot of essential benefits for humanity that come with this development. But, it has also created a huge accountability gap. The time we save buying prepared food should be partially dedicated to learning about how it was prepared, gathering information so we can be truly informed and just consumers. Food procurement has complicated and vast impacts on our communities, and we need to understand such impacts.

This circles back to my initial concerns about where we get information about food. If we are not involved in the production of the food that we eat or find unbiased information about food systems, we must get this information second hand, often with a specific slant. Ideally, we would rely on a mixture of second hand information and experience to cultivate our own opinions about food production, but when this is impractical (or outlawed) we have to do our best connecting the dots between many seemingly disparate discussions.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *