No one fired a pistol to mark the start of the race to the bottom.
Author Jonathan Safran Foer (of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close fame) wrote his third book—a memoir entitled Eating Animals—as an answer to the question he asked himself upon the birth of his newborn son: Should he raise him a vegetarian? It’s a hot-button issue these days with the amount of money food processors and growers earn as “true American entrepreneurs living a ‘small business’ dream” and then put into the government as bribes (or contributions as they’re more commonly referred). With the cheapness of meat and the false notion that it provides vitamins and proteins we cannot consume by any other means (you can, but at a premium many can’t afford), families have no choice but to keep it their staple food.
Documentarian Christopher Dillon Quinn has taken that book and expanded it into a feature length film with insights from activists, whistleblowers, and those rare farmers still performing their duties via love and care removed from Big Agriculture’s oppressive regime. With narration from Natalie Portman (not as much as assumed and more than likely relaying Foer’s introspections), we begin to learn what this current geological age dominated by human influence (the Anthropocene) has wrought upon Mother Nature. We see the footage of diseased and abused animals, process the government’s complicity (along with our own), and realize what many of the talking heads agree: change can only happen as a fight. Factory farms are entrenched, secured, and strong. Only an alternative product can help us hurt them where it counts.
There’s an old saying that you can tell a lot about a person from the way they treat their pets. The same can be said about farmers and their livestock. When you have giant corporations setting up tournament farming rules wherein top earners receive a profit built up from the contracted shortfalls of those not doing enough, they’re literally “farming” out their labor to machine-led factories devoid of morality. So it’s easy to comprehend their purpose. Maybe companies like Tyson and Perdue (both mentioned multiple times here) began with compassion, but those days are long gone. Unlike Colonel Sanders and KFC, however, they’ve watched future generations warped their ancestors’ goals to turn a profit. They didn’t sell to people who don’t care. They simply stopped caring themselves.
It’s that lack of empathy that forces employees to risk their careers (and jail time thanks to federal laws passed with Big Agriculture’s blessing to turn whistleblowing into a felony charge). Just the other day I saw a video from Mercy for Animals being passed around online of live chicks thrown into meat grinders. Because those brands enlist farms to do their dirty work, however, they can simply respond by sending welfare officials to condemn the practices they force upon their subsidiaries as not being their practices. It’s just one series of strong-arm tactics followed by another—none of which should surprise anyone in this day and age. Unfortunately the sad truth remains that meat-eaters only care about these defenseless creatures until the price goes up. Myself included.
So the question you have to ask yourself is whether a documentary like Eating Animals can really enact substantial change. At a certain point these types of activist-led films find themselves preaching to the choir rather than educating those who are genuinely ignorant to the truth and not just intentionally ignoring facts while labeling them under a meaningless umbrella of “political agenda.” The latter opinion is itself a “political agenda” and thus hypocritical enough to stall the dissemination of information in lieu of propaganda. One side calls the other’s self-interest into question and eventually the subject is mired beneath empty arguments doing nothing but obfuscating the original intent. And while I do believe the message here will be lost as well, it at least introduces viable alternatives.
There’s Beyond Meat’s drive to create vegetable-based products that taste like meat and act like it too. We meet farmers inspired to teach the ways of natural farming that were taught to them by generations long-since usurped by capitalistic gain and more who spend each and every day with their livestock to ensure a way of life to which they can be proud. And there are also those unfortunate enough to find themselves mired under the pyramid scheme of mounting debt—provided by those aforementioned companies—who finally decide enough is enough. Add concerned groups testing water near pig factory run-offs and the growing potential for another Spanish flu-type pandemic from 1918 and you have to wonder how long before necessary improvements are taken out of our hands.
Sadly the answer is likely never thanks to our government being bought and sold by private interest groups uninterested in the wellbeing of our nation’s population or mandates of the Constitution. Let detractors say vegetarianism is a liberal ploy attempting to bankrupt rural America’s livelihood because the best quote here is from an ex-Marine explaining what “defending from all enemies foreign and domestic” means. The people Quinn interviews are as rural America as you can get and they see the irreversible problems shaping their industry and removing it from their possession. These are real farmers sustaining a living against insurmountable competition and “tournament winners” unable to make profits despite bonuses “earned.” Our future’s price tag might be dictated by spending habits, but more motivates them than pure emotion.
Courtesy of Sundance Selects. A Sundance Selects release.