Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to Watch Netflix

You have Netflix. You have an Instant Queue sitting full of shows and movies yet unwatched. The time has come to stop scrolling past these artifacts of interests past and watch something new with an eye for learning.

Introducing  Food, Inc, a 2008 documentary by Robert Keener on the state of food in these United States. The promotional tag line goes, “An unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry.” At 94 minutes, it is an easy and informative watch. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, along with other critical accolades.  

Food, Inc is compelling and engaging. Keener clearly had an agenda when putting this film together. However, he does not cloud the delivery of his message: the food we consume is far from what we imagine it to be. As we drift farther away from an agricultural lifestyle, people no longer understand what food is, where it comes from, and how it is processed.  Keener faults the handful of multinational corporations creating and delivering the food supply. These are the consequence of the fast food industry’s titanic purchasing power, as driven by consumer demand for cheap, fast, and filling food, regardless of nutrition provided. The result is a food industry sacrificing safety for the sake of cutting costs with little advocacy on behalf of the consumer.

Most of the documentary discusses problems which are well identified, but they are only symptoms. It is apparent to a viewer who watches and thinks about what is being said that the root cause tying all of the symptoms together is that of agricultural subsidies. Corn, wheat, and soybean crops are heavily subsidized by the US Federal Government. The way this works is a price floor, where there is always an absolute minimum price that a farming corporation can sell his grain for to the US government. The cost of production has diminished from where this price floor is set that farming corporations have incentives at all times to increase the production of corn.

Suddenly, the supply of corn vastly outstrips traditional demand and prices fall. When these prices are low enough, livestock producers begin to purchase corn to feed animals not designed to subsist on corn. Eventually this leads to health issues in the livestock, but it is still cost effective to medicate the livestock with antibiotics and maintain the corn based diet.

All of the problems identified in Food, Inc can be traced back to the root issue of subsidized cereal grains, this American Hydra of unintended consequences. So long as this economic reality exists, the Sisyphean task of providing government oversight to ensure food safety will be unsuccessful. Keener actually does a fine job demonstrating how powerless the FDA is in the food industry, and inadvertently showcases why a trust in government to protect people is a vain faith.

Go on, use your Netflix and Amazon Prime for good tonight.  

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