According to Food, Inc., the 2008 documentary film about corporate farming, we are all walking Doritos with limbs, fed primarily by big evil corporations.
These big corporations were the main topic of Wednesday night’s discussion between best-selling authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, held at Bovard Auditorium moderated by KCRW’s Good Food radio host Evan Kleiman.
“The power of big corporations like ConAgra, Monsanto and Walmart is incredible,” Schlosser said. “They are the ones pulling all the strings behind the government and the food we eat.”
Both Schlosser and Pollan are active figures in issues pertaining to food sustainability and industries. They did years of investigative work on food politics and production, exposing the government’s role in unsanitary and discriminatory farm practices through detailed, no-holds-barred books that shocked the country.
Debating Walmart’s recent five-year plan to repackage its food to include lower amounts of unhealthy salts, fats and sugars, both Schlosser and Pollan were hopeful, but critical.
“Walmart is the biggest grocery store that feeds 40 percent of America,” Pollan said. “I think if they figure out how to [offer healthier products] profitably, there can be significant changes.”
Scholosser offered a more cynical view.
“The real problem, however, is still that there shouldn’t be any companies that powerful,” Schlosser said. “Ultimately it’s about unchecked power, and how corruptive it is.”
According to Pollan and Schlosser, the idyllic days of local farmers and happy cow pastures are over. The food industry has changed drastically. Farms are getting bigger and producing more, but according to Schlosser and Pollan, these “specialty crops” subsidized by the government never actually enter the consumer’s mouth.
“Over 75 percent that [the farmers] produce is fed to livestock,” Pollan said. “The remainder is turned into ethanol to feed our cars. Even so, 50 percent of food grown for humans is thrown away, uneaten.”
Because of America’s deeply complicated food politics, Pollan and Schlosser said the public is often misinformed about what they eat.
Pollan’s deceivingly simple food motto, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” trails into more intense debates from the inaccessibility of expensive organic and health products for the vast majority of America to the obscure yet prominent lobbying and power food farming corporations have over politics.
Parisa Rezvani, a graduate student studying visual anthropology, said she found the discussion to be interesting.
“I hope this talk can accurately inform students because food politics is often confusing and there’s a lot of misinformation,” Rezvani said.
Meanwhile, Michael Zarky, 64, who has been vegetarian for 44 years, said he thinks people need to be more wise with their spending.
“The food movement is mostly for the upper-middle class only,” Zarky said. “People need to stop spending money on stupid things and support local farmers.”