Monday, June 15, 2009

This Movie Changed My Life (No, it's Not Showgirls)

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Monday recipe post for an important message: go see Food, Inc.

This past weekend, the Husband-Elect and I managed to cram ourselves into a screening of the documentary at the Film Forum in Manhattan’s West Village. Directed by Robert Kenner with extensive commentary from both Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, it’s an important film, and it changed the way we’ll eat from here on in. No kidding.

Some background: I’ve read Fast Food Nation (Schlosser), The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan), and In Defense of Food (Pollan again), as well as an untold number of blog, magazine, and newspaper articles on the modern U.S. food industry. So I knew. But I don’t know if I knew. You know?

You can read about cows hitting adulthood in mere months, growing to mutant sizes, and spending their entire, miserable lives knee-deep in their own feces, but nothing prepares you for seeing it. Or seeing just how corrupt and toothless the USDA and FDA really are. Or seeing how badly farmers and factory workers are exploited. Or seeing that whatever terrible iniquities are visited upon our food system, the best of intentions are almost always behind them.

You can find several reviews of Food, Inc. over here at Eat Me Daily, and I’ll have more details about it on Wednesday. But today, I wanted to dive into how it affected the both of us – how 93 minutes (give or take a few for the credits) will change dinner for the Husband-Elect and me, maybe permanently.

1) We’re starting to buy our meat and eggs from a farmer’s market. We don’t eat much anyway, so we pow-wowed and decided it’s worth it to us to buy quality, humanely raised chicken, pork, and beef. Honestly, I’m kind of excited about this, because I have no idea what a grass-fed hamburger tastes like. (Like lunch in Xanadu, I’m betting.) The transition might be tough, especially when I JUST WANT SOME #&*$^# BACON, but the cold cut bill could be a pleasant surprise.

2) We’re raising our food budget. Right now, our weekly grocery bill hovers around $55 for two people. We’re upping it to $65 or $70. It can be swung if we’re thoughtful with our cash, take extra care to eat at home, and be sure that nothing goes to waste.

3) We’re reducing our intake of high fructose corn syrup, and sugar in general. Um … this will be difficult, largely because I don’t know all the synonyms yet. (Fructose! Maltodextrin! Sorbitol! WOOO!) In fact, I went to the supermarket today, and was pretty sure that one of the salad dressings was made entirely of sugar. Yikes. Breaking our breakfast cereal habit will be hardest of all. Mostly, we’ll miss the puzzles on the back of the box.

4) We’re becoming granola-flecked, chai-swilling hippies who live in yurts and sell hemp blankets so we can follow Phish on tour. Break out the Birkenstocks, baby. (Okay, not really. Still, we’re attempting to change our eating habits for the better, and that could involve bean sprouts. Stay tuned.)

As far as the blog goes, I honest-to-goodness don’t think it’ll change that much. Meat dishes might become scarcer, but I think I can still swing a few inexpensive recipes with higher-quality poultry, pork, and beef. (Heck, maybe even rabbit or lamb.) We’ll see.

Readers, have you seen Food, Inc. yet? Have you seen ANY movie that altered what you put on your table? How did you do with the changes? Advice and/or shared stories would be fantastic.

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Kelly said...

No movie really, but the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver definitely changed the way I thought about and buy food and eat :)

Kelly said...

I have not seen the movie yet but I want to. It doesn't open in Houston until the 26th, I think.

May I ask just how gruesome it gets? Are there slaughter house scenes? I'm asking because I want to take my kids but don't want to freak them out beyond what is acceptable. Ya know?

I'm also making some changes around here to a better quality stocked fridge and pantry. Eat Clean magazine is helpful with recipes. So is the book Nourishing Traditions. Finding ingredients that I can afford is a different story. better quality foods=higher price. But you save on medical in the long run...or at least that's what I'm told.

Transitioning from High fructose corn syrup: I use agave nectar or Stevia now.

Meats: I still have a lot in my freezer that I am using up before I go all out grass fed, etc. I'm thinking of going in halves with someone on half a cow or something.

Organic fruits & veggies: only buying the worst offenders in organic variety right now: strawberries, apples, grapes, peaches. Broccoli & bananas will likely remain conventional.

DMBY said...

I have not seen this film yet, but I so agree with all your comments. It's soooo hard though to navigate the wilds of food to get what we want. We have to support each other!

leslie said...

The movie "King Corn" really made a difference in our house-- we do out best to avoid HFCS and have really improved our eating habits.

The hardest part? Finding soft bread without The Evil Stuff (as we now call HFCS). Even the whole-grain breads have it. Ugh...

MJ said...

Good luck trying to purge the HFCS, you find that stuff in the oddest places (Worcestershire sauce, I'm looking at you).

sturtus said...

I'm dying to hear feedback on this. It seems like such a great issue to discuss. So many health issues are tied to diet, this topic just isn't a hippies and yuppies vs. everyone else debate.

pumpkininrecovery said...

"but I think I can still swing a few inexpensive recipes with higher-quality poultry, pork, and beef. (Heck, maybe even rabbit or lamb.) We’ll see."
I'm REALLY looking forward to this. I too want to move to eating more sustainable meat, but cost is definitely an issue. Seeing how someone else does it in real time will be interesting for me. Good luck!

Olivia said...

Yes! I've been getting more interested in the "real food" movement after reading In Defense of Food (on your recommendation, incidentally), so went to see the movie Friday. For me it was the chickens, bred to be too big to walk, that really hit me. I had already switched over my dairy to grassfed (easy enough between farmer's markets and Fairway), but it looks like the meat will be next.

Amanda on Maui said...

I haven't seen "Food, Inc." because it isn't showing here on Maui. But, I saw "Fast Food Nation" a couple years ago and it completely changed how I buy and consume beef products. Of course it made me think of all meat products, but beef was the main part of the movie and was the easiest and least costly for my transition.

Here on Maui we have Maui Cattle Company Beef. It's more expensive than factory farm beef, but is local and almost entirely grass fed (switching over to full in a few years). For about $5.50 I can buy 1 1/3 pounds of ground beef. The price is probably about double of FF beef, but it's worth it. There's so much flavor, it's a lot more tender, and I see the cows free ranging it out in the nearby fields every day.

There are no local sources of free-range organic chicken, as far as I know. But, I am buying mainland organic "free-range" chicken. It's certainly not as free-range as the cows are here, but I believe it to be better than the cheaper chicken.

I was spending $7.50 for local pasture raised eggs, but the grocery store is no longer carrying them. A friend of mine told me of a woman who lives nearby who sells free-range organic eggs for a couple of dollars.

We stopped purchasing foods with HFCS in them over a year ago. I went gluten-free around the same time for health reasons. We'll only have sodas if we're out. I have to say though that I am not aware of all of the other names for HFCS.

I now buy the majority of my produce locally. There's a great farmstand that opened up the road last year, and I shop there every week. I take my big reusable grocery bags and treat it like the supermarket. I can get lettuce, onions, zucchini, strawberries, tomatoes, oranges, avocados, and a lot more all locally grown. They even sell their own jams, jellies, and syrups made from their berries.

Even with all of these food changes, I'm able to come in a lot lower in my food budget than when I didn't pay any attention to what I was eating. I have a weekly budget of $120 and feed my bf, sometimes his mother, and myself on that every week. That budget also covers dinner for 2-12 people once a week.

I've never been a happier eater.

Calidaho said...

I absolutely want to see it. My hubby refuses. He thinks ignorance is bliss. I went vegetarian after seeing Super Size Me and that wasn't even the point of the movie!

Grass fed beef--my mom lives on 5 acres in rural Idaho and my new step-dad wants to raise a couple of calves. One for selling and one for eating--sharing it with all the relatives. I told her grass fed, non hormone beef might take some getting used to! I am assuming it can only be tastier than factory beef.

Al said...

With respect to the cost issue: I saw Michael Pollan speak just last week, and one of his (many!) great points was that the average household used to spend 18% of their income on groceries, and now it's down around 10% or so. So yes, while the cost of quality food is a real issue, there's also an issue with our perceptions of what we think food 'should' cost. My boyfriend and I now try to think of the price of good quality food as the 'real price' of food, and the conventional stuff as artificially subsidized - if we don't pay, someone/something/somewhere else is.

Related to this, another point Pollan makes in the book is that yes, good quality food is more expensive than its conventional counterparts and yes, there is a social justice aspect to it in that everyone should be able to afford quality food. However, he also points out that those of us who can afford to do it should, both for health/environment/ethical reasons, but also to help create a market for'good food' farmers, which would in turn reduce the cost and make it more accessible to everyone.

We're both graduate students so money is very tight, but I'd rather eat 'happy' (as we call it) meat twice a month than conventional meat more often, and we often spend more on food at the expense of other things.

Just my two cents. I'll get off my soapbox now. :)

Libby said...

For the past 15 years I have slowly evolved from a junk food/soda/burger junkie to what some people would call a health nut. In high school I ate at McDonalds almost every day after school, drank 6 cherry cokes a day, and even had an "I *heart* McD's" bumper sticker on my car...yikes! Now I annoy my friends and family with constant talk of the benefits of soy and how quinoa is such an awesome grain. But up until a couple years ago I was still sneaking off to McD's for a Big Mac from time to time because really...they tasted SO GOOD.

But once I saw Supersize Me, my McD's days came to an end and I've never considered eating there again. And what I've found is that my tastes are continuing to change as I'm not eating scary, non-biodegradible food from McD's and while I'm learning more and more about the food/meat industry these days. Its scary stuff!

I'm not totally off meat and junk food yet, but I'm getting close. I try to eat whole foods almost exclusively (so glad I like to cook!), and for everything else I read all the labels and am learning the code words for milk, sugar, etc. I'm also really excited about seeing Food, Inc...its on my Netflix queue now and I have a feeling it will have a big impact on me as well.

kmmuonz said...

I'm excited to read about the changes in your eating habits when you two get going. It'd be great if you shared all the sugar synonyms when you figure them out. :) Love the blog!

Christine said...

Haven't seen the movie, but I have read several in that genre. The latest book: Food Matters, A guide to conscious eating by Mark Bittman. Excellent, and includes recipes. It may help you with your breakfast cereal dilemma, he talks about whole grains or anything you want for breakfast. Now if my kids would be done with cereals, I'd be happy!
I gave up meat (not fish) for Lent this year and still haven't gone back...
Thanks for your blog!

Jennifer said...

I've been waiting and waiting for this movie - I'm dying to see it. (Although I admit to feeling like I need to squeeze in some old favorite meals before I do since I suspect I won't be able to stomach them afterwards!)

I read Pollan's "OD" and drove everyone crazy with my non-stop talk about the evils of corn. My husband is already preparing himself for what this movie is going to do to our lives.

I can't wait to see it!

Christine said...

I forgot to add that Arnold has a bread that is "100% Natural"--no HCFS, etc. It comes in white, honey wheat, and whole wheat. I buy the whole wheat because it doesn't have any flecks of wheat germ or anything, it's smooth, so my kids will eat it. The package says $2.99 a loaf by my store always has it on sale for $1.99, which isn't bad.

Kimm at Reinvented said...

I haven't seen the movie, either, but definitely want to now. I am reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and highly recommend it.

Kris said...

Hey, you guys. Wednesday's post will be about what I consider to be the holy trinity of food industry docs: this one, Super Size Me, and King Corn (as well as one or two more supplemental movies). Stay tuned...

Ashley said...

Good luck! This is a great thing you are doing.

Green said...

I saw the movie over the weekend and it did nothing at all for me, though I found it really sad when the pigs screamed in fear when they were about to die.

But I live in San Francisco where everyone buys the majority of their food at Trader Joe's already and we all know where at least three farmer's markets in the city are located.

There's a TJ's in Manhattan. Also, you can make your own salad dressing - it's pretty easy. The meat won't taste that different - it's when you eat the meat from grass-fed cows for half a year and then one day decide to eat at McDonalds or Wendys that you'll realize the difference (as you sit hunched over clutching your stomach in agony).

Becky said...

I haven't seen any of these movies. In regards to #2, though, I can say that any ingredients ending in -ose are suspects for high fructose corn syrup. (I grew up helping my mom read the labels on food in the grocery store-- she's allergic to all corn products.)

Kris said...

Kelly - there are slaughterhouse scenes, but you don't see any animals killed in those. Mostly packed away in a box/crater, and then magically dead/skinned/ready for processing a few minutes later.

There IS one chicken having its throat slit, but it's on an organic farm (Joel Salatin's Polyface) in just about the most natural way possible. Shocking and a little bloody for sure, but waaay less than you see on TV. The only difference is, the chicken's really dead in the end.

Jenna said...

Haven't seen the movie yet, but like the first Kelly, Barbara Kingsolver's book clarified some big choices for me.

Sounds like you and your guy are making the same changes that me and mine are working on.

I'm unbelievably lucky in our meat purchases - there is a local, humanly raised (grass fed until the week before the end, then they get brought up to a field near the shop/abattoir and given corn, oats, molasses, and sunshine until the end), all access butcher shop right down the road from us. What has really surprised me is in truth - they are a better cost than the grocery store as WELL as the more ethical choice.

The taste difference is.... astounding. Meat that tastes like, well... meat. Not the fillers, chemicals, or coverups usually employed to make it palatable. It's a big enough change that I ended up buying a tshirt from the butcher shop -

"Friends don't let friends eat grocery store meat."

I think as consumers become more aware and educated - both about the environment AND the personal differences - there is going to be a big shift soon. Well, hoping anyway.

Aryn said...

Honestly, the grass-fed beef doesn't taste all that different. It's a little sweeter, a little bit spicier (at least it smells spicier when it cooks). It does cook in less time, which is nice, but it doesn't get quite as dark as the beef you're used to. I recommend a meat thermometer the first few times!

The pork has more flavor, too, at least in ground form which is the only way I've purchased it from the farmer's market.

The eggs are eggier, I guess you could say. They also last longer.

I haven't bought chicken at the farmer's market yet (insane prices on that), but I did have free-range organic chicken from Wild Oats once and it was hands down the best chicken I've ever eaten.

Erin said...

That's why I try only to shop at Trader Joes and my local health food store-can't find an item in either store with HFCS in it! I also try and stock up on meat when its on sale-no hormone/antibiotic and they often have grass fed beef at a reasonable price.

Anonymous said...

hi there - i'm sure you've considered this before, but have you thought about a CSA? there is one I just joined that is great because it has a very minimal commitment and they have eggs, poultry and beef products. Honestly, you should look into it: Look at the CSA select options. I have a coupon code for 20% also - let me know if you want me to send it to you

Anonymous said...

I am allergic to corn, so I have already cut out the HFCS. I am convinced the prevalence of HFCS contributed to my allergy. 'Moderation' is fine if you are talking about eating a piece of corn on the cob or something, but it's hard to be 'moderate' about something you are ingesting in almost every food you eat without even knowing it!

There are a million fun things to do with oatmeal. You are not missing much by losing the breakfast cereal. Might I suggest you start with a nice bowl of 1/2 cup rolled oats mixed with boiling water, let it sit for a minute or so, then stir in some mashed banana and a few chocolate chips? Yuuuuum.

Molly B. said...

I tried one batch of grass-fed hamburger from my local statewide co-op. I was also thinking Xanadu, but... I didn't like it. It smelled so MEATY. I nearly got sick. My husband thought it was fine, but he grew up in the country with plenty of fresh meat, and he likes meat more than I do anyway.

OTOH, there is NOTHING like co-op eggs, and they cost the same as supermarket organic free-range eggs ($3.50/doz. large, $4.00 xl). Also, they're brown or grey or kind of blue, or speckled... you never know what you're going to get. So much fun.

Tara said...

I have to agree. The movie literally changed our lives. My daughter and I saw the movie in the theater. (She's 8, so her eyes had to be shielded quite a few times, as if we were watching a horror film.) We walked out the door, and never put a piece of meat or fish in our bodies again. It'll be coming on a year since we became vegetarians cold-tofuky, and I didn't realize how easy it would be, or how much better I would feel.

I now have an 8 year old who is an advocate at her school, and is determined to educate her fellow classmates and teachers about genetically modified products, growth hormones, and factory farming.

The movie is a must see, especially for children. For the first time in history, my daughter's life expectancy is lower than mine. It's time to wake up.