Film Club Conversation: The Future of Food (Everyone Welcome)


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Cast your vote. But before you do, be sure you understand the issues. Your vote counts, and the stakes are high.

I’m not referring to presidential politics, but to your next trip to the grocery store. The Future of Food (Trailer) is a documentary about the power of your vote. Planetary and personal health depend on the ballot we cast with every dollar spent satisfying our appetites. Understanding the power of the consumer in a market economy, the narrator states poignantly, “The choices we make at the supermarket determine the future of food.”

So what are we voting for? What are the issues and alternatives? How great are the risks? What is the history of food and where might current trends lead?

One of the most prominent themes of The Future of Food is ownership*. This is one aspect of the food cycle with which many health-conscious individuals may still be unfamiliar. Most of us know that pesticides and herbicides are detrimental to our health if ingested. We have mental images of people spraying pesticides wearing protective masks, and we’ve heard stories of farmers having increased rates of certain cancers. I’m guessing most family cooks already wash their fruits and vegetables before dining even if they aren’t hardcore punk or post-punk organic, raw-food vegans.

Many may be unaware of the ripple effects of genetic patents. Enter Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer sued by Mansanto for having Canola on his property that had Mansanto’s genetic modifications. Schmeiser had not planted the Canola; it had most likely blown there from passing trucks. And Schmeiser is not alone.

Why is this possible? The critical factors began to come together in 1980 when geneticist Chakrabarty effectively argued before the Supreme Court that biological organisms could be patented. Once ownership of genes was established, it was a small step to claim ownership of any organism in which the patented modifications appear. Taken even further, it was ruled that any crop seed could be patented simply if it had not already been claimed. In response, Mansanto amassed an estimated 11,000 plant patents (by 2004) and has spent millions acquiring other seed producers.

The benefits of owning genetic patents are the same as owning patents on more standard products. Corporations have a legal responsibility to maximize profits. To do this, they need market share. By controlling the supply of seeds via patents and new “improvements,” Monsanto is poised to increase its share of the market and thereby maximize shareholder wealth.

The significance of this consolidation is expressed on a silent, black-and-white screen: “Whoever controls the seeds controls the food.” Monsanto spokesperson, Phil Angell, states bluntly, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” Yet the revolving door for executives between Monsanto and the federal government means limited oversight of food safety will continue.

Despite the strong case presented in this film, it is worth noting that Monsanto is not the only company participating in this industry trend. Focusing on the industry leader may be a strong technique for a documentary, but Monsanto is not alone in these practices.

The ramifications of genetic engineering (GE) are significant for the general public, and especially for Seventh-day Adventists because the “gene revolution” intersects with two related core values of our faith community: physical health and respect for creation.

First, personal health risks associated with GE foods include allergies, untraceable viral and bacterial DNA in the food supply that have unknown affects, and the extensive use of chemical/synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers in crops designed for spraying.

Second, caring for God's creation is central to the Seventh-day Adventist value of honoring God through Sabbath rest.

  • We worship God in part because of the natural gifts God has given us (Genesis 2:15; Exodus 20:8-11).
  • We understand that the Earth needs rest and cannot be pushed endlessly (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-12, 26:32-35).
  • We understand that the Earth cannot sustain limitless populations of both people and domesticated animals (Genesis 13:6, 36:7).
  • This informs us that some lifestyles are sustainable and some are not. By choosing to live sustainably, we honor God by demonstrating that we value what he called good (Genesis 1:12).
  • We also keep in mind that humanity is dealing with the curse of sin (Genesis 3:17-19), so we approach this topic respecting its complexity.

At the risk of oversimplifying these issues, one critical vote negates the majority of the problems highlighted in this film—the personal organic referendum. With each dollar we spend on organic food, we are casting a vote for a future free of carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides, for waters without dead zones from artificial fertilizer run-off, for seeds and crops controlled by farmers not corporation, for markets with no demand for GMO foods and thus no incentive for corporations to dabble. Clearly, the organic vote is powerful and needed.

Because the future of food is one choice you simply can’t escape, let’s vote wisely.

I strongly recommend this film for anyone who buys or eats food. In fact I’ve called it one of a handful of documentaries that I feel every U.S. consumer should watch. Unlabeled GM produce and food products appear natural or at least normal, so it is easy for us to make food choices without even a second thought about what is possibly lurking inside or the effects of our eating habits on the environment, farmers and corporations. This film is a strong reminder.

My favorite bonus documentary** on the 2-disc Special Edition is the consideration of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). More of us need to become aware of the alternatives to the present system that we so easily accept as the only way to live. Please visit www.localharvest.org to learn about your local resources, CSAs and otherwise.

The following questions might guide further conversation:

  1. What is most significant to you in The Future of Food?
  2. What objections do you have?
  3. What questions does this film raise for you?
  4. What are you currently doing to live sustainably?
  5. What related films and books do you recommend for people interested in learning more about these and related issues

Jeff Boyd is the Coordinator for the Church of Refuge and a blogger at Jeff's Justice Journal and the Adventist Environmental Advocacy blog.

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*Other powerful and interrelated themes include bio-diversity, farm subsidies, food safety or health effects of genetically modified foods, government control, consumer rights and world hunger.

**Note for Netflix patrons: The version you receive in the mail or “watch instantly” lacks the excellent supplemental footage mentioned here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1180