Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Food Fight" Screening and Discussion

The Harvard Food Law Society hosted a film screening and discussion of the documentary film "Food Fight" last week on National Food Day, with Director Chris Taylor.

Food Fight "is a fascinating look at how American agricultural policy and food culture developed in the 20th century, and how the California food movement has created a counter-revolution against big agribusiness." Chris Taylor also described the film as a "murder mystery, with taste as the victim."

How did big agribusiness develop? Before World War II, major problems in the United States included an inadequate food supply and malnourishment. Post-WWII, fertilizers, pesticides, and large-petroleum based machinery developed during the war encouraged the growth of large farms, so much in fact that the number of farms in the U.S. decreased from 6 million to 2 million from 1945 to 1970.

In addition, in the 1970s, Earl Butz of the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported large scale agribusiness. While previously the government regulated agriculture by keeping supply and demand in balance, in the 1970s, the government supported large farms by encouraging them to grow large quantities of commodities, such as corn and soy. "Don't worry about overproduction, Butz told farmers on trips through the Midwest. Produce all you can, and we'll the sell the surplus overseas!" This led to the growth of cheap food, and to produce being grown for their shipping qualities, and not for their qualities of taste and flavor. Overproduction of commodities also led to the development of many processed foods, such as foods containing corn and variations of corn, including high fructose corn syrup. Foods were being developed for their cheapness and convenience, not for their quality and taste.

The movie also showed that although food costs have gone down over time, instead, we are paying increasing prices for the cost of health care, which is partly related to more Americans getting diseases from an unhealthy food supply. Below is a graph that demonstrates this idea, although it is a different one than was used in the movie.


To counter industrial food, "Food Fight" identifies Chez Panisse in California as a major player in the counter-revolution in California. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse "are convinced that the best-tasting food is organically and locally grown and harvested in ways that are ecologically sound by people who are taking care of the land for future generations." However, originally in opening the restaurant, Alice Waters wasn't looking to promote local and organic food. She wished to provide the most delicious and pleasurable food, and in searching for that, found that this food was local, organic, and sustainably grown.

To wrap up the film, we finished with a Q&A session with Director Chris Taylor, who is also a Harvard alum.

If you haven't previously thought about where the food on your plate comes from, the documentary "Food Fight" is a good place to start. Thanks to the Harvard Food Law Society for putting on the event, and here's to voting with your fork!

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