Paul awards the film a B, gauging its value as a farm income resource for those interested in selling superior quality farm products directly to chefs who are willing to pay accordingly for superior flavor. While the film is an excellent permaculture-related documentary, Paul suggests Geoff Lawton’s Food Forest, or Sepp Holzer’s films as better learning guides. The main points are as follows:
Big ag’s payoff to the farmer is arbitrated by middle-men and is, even after subsidization, insufficient to live on due to transportation, handling and corporate overhead. Food produced and sold locally is, even without government subsidization, more profitable to produce.
Big ag is exclusively concerned with quantity and produces unhealthy foodstuffs whose flavor is inferior and which sell cheaply by the truckload. Farmers managing smaller farms can put more of their attention toward the biological health of their systems, producing enough highly flavorful yields to sell at higher prices in manageable quantities.
The #1 cause of diseases among animals is high-density containment, requiring use of antibiotics and other toxins that remain in meat after processing. Animals raised in natural ecologies (less density, more diversity) generate less pathologies and do not require toxins for their upkeep.
Due to international supply and distribution lines, big ag is compelled to breed out nutrient-rich strains of produce so that their shelf-life is extended, resulting in food that will not decompose because even microbes find little nutrition in it. Local grown, seasonally harvested food can be picked and distributed just hours before it is served.
Big ag is highly mechanized and poorly monitored. When pathogens or toxins are discovered in big ag foodstuffs, immense quantities of food must be recalled at great expense due to uncertainty of the extent of contamination. Small-scale production is much easier to monitor, minimizing the likelihood of contamination, and the expense of remediation.
The film celebrates our ability to transcend big ag altogether, by tapping into the burgeoning market for flavorful and healthful food, whose foundation is the direct collaboration between farmers and chefs.
Chefs are willing not only to pay a premium for superior quality and flavor, they are also aware that natural foodstuffs mature at different times of the year and are flexible enough to work with what is locally available. This frees the farmer to focus all of his/her attention on the ecological health of production. A lamb farmer observes marked reductions in parasitic infestations when he introduces polyculture of cattle and ducks
to his lamb population. Disease-resistant cattle and ducks are pastured as a vanguard against infestation before the more disease-prone sheep are pastured.
Paul and Jocelyn offer the following critiques:
Despite its waxing permacultural, the film uses, as positive examples, many systems that are decidedly monocrop. The film asserts that one of the major health risks in processed foods is the high fat content, as well as high sugar content. Paul and Jocelyn agree that it is not the quantity, but the kinds of fats used that are problematic. The film is perhaps simplistic when one interviewee asserts that “biodynamic” is “organic + the lunar cycle.” While lunar cycles do, indeed, determine ideal harvest periods, biodynamic practices are farther reaching in scope. It may also be simplistic in encouraging cities to grow up, not out for the sake of preserving farmland as this prevents use of urban plots for local urban farming, perpetuating the need to truck produce from afar. Furthermore farmland might be better redistributed and diversified away from monocrop agriculture if the only entities able to inherit and “preserve” large plots are such as Monsanto.
One vivid demonstration of people’s need for better food is a study with young children accustomed to standard school lunches who, when given the opportunity to eat fresh, local, seasonal food, voluntarily ate quantities that exceed the national average of consumption of similar products. The lesson is that we are not being given a choice by the industry and must care for each other directly. Ultimately, the film encourages chefs to educate common people that truly delicious equates to truly healthful. It also encourages farmers to educate chefs how truly delicious equates to locally grown and seasonally harvested. It asserts how There is no culture that spends less on food and more on healthcare than that in the US. Pay the doctor or pay the conscientious farmer.
Credit: Brian Walker