2017 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: The concerns around the industrial production of food have been well documented in films like “Food, Inc.,” “Forks Over Knives,” “Jimmy’s GM Food Fight,” “The World According to Monsanto,” and this year’s “Okja,” to name a few. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer‘s memoir, Christopher Quinn‘s doc, “Eating Animals,” continues to keep the fire burning for this noble and immediate cause.
As someone who eats meat at just about every meal, I found it difficult to watch “Eating Animals” without feeling a pretty heavy weight on my back. The film, however, isn’t trying to talk you out of eating meat. Instead, it’s trying to raise awareness about where the food is coming from, what other options we have, and the dire need to get this right before it’s too late.
Factory farming – the system of raising livestock using accelerated methods, by which animals are restrained indoors under rigorously controlled conditions – started in the 1970s, and now makes up 99% of the entire agribusiness market. This type of farming has all but made the free-range farmer obsolete, and employs abusive practices to bloat industrial profits regardless of the expense to animals, communities, or the environment.
Frank Reese is one of the good guys, a Kansas poultry farmer who continues to apply the traditional farming techniques used 50 years ago. He, and other farmers across the country tell their stories in the doc, ranging from the brutality of swine farms and the contamination caused by hog lagoons – man-made basins filled with animal waste that are then re-dispersed back into our natural bodies of water – to government imposed laws (AG-GAG) that forbid the act of undercover filming of activity on farms, the result of doing so being considered a felony.
As population and consumption have skyrocketed over the past 200 years, a new geological age has been realized – the Anthropocene era. The era is defined by the period in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Somewhere along the way, efficiency became valued over quality. Over ethics. Over morality. The environmental issues caused by mass production have been scientifically determined to be the cause for up to 50% of the world’s climate change. And where is the government in all this?
Quinn – through the narration of Academy Award winner Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”) – believes that the USDA is no longer in place to protect the people, as tainted meat goes straight into the school food programs, and drugs are used to develop mutant obese genes in order to grow our meat bigger, faster, and cheaper. “The USDA,” the film states, “is now in place to protect the fox, instead of guarding the hen house.”
And who can blame them? The demand has fluctuated so much that animal agriculture now favors the techniques used in confinement in order to create the necessary supply. And consumers are none the wiser, as many of us are able to separate what we are eating from the fact that an animal may have been brutally murdered in order for us to have our meal. But the simple truth is we are all responsible for creating human epidemics and pandemics (such as swine and avian flu), and our health and longevity are at risk. The film leaves little doubt that this crisis is so large, that it will be the reason why the human race meets its end.
“Eating Animals” is a critical and compelling film that every meat-eater should be required to see. It isn’t telling you what to eat, only to consider what you are eating, where it comes from, and what is left for the honest farmer trying to do the right thing. As the good farmer Frank Reese recites the words often credited to Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”