Politics for dinner: A scary new documentary and a 26-year-old celebration of food and pride

by Terry B on June 3, 2009

Food, Inc. explores where the food we eat really comes from. And the 26th annual Garden Party kicks off Gay Pride Week in New York with celebrity chefs and Gourmet Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl.

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The documentary Food, Inc. opens June 12, and according to Miranda Purves in Elle magazine, it “will have you running from the supermarket for the hills, preferably ones dotted with grass-fed cows.” Let me start with a given here: Feeding the more than 300 million people who call the United States home is a monumental challenge. But as filmmaker Robert Kenner shows, the way America’s industrialized food system goes about it, with the acquiescence if not outright complicity of the federal government, threatens us all.

The issues are many and complex. The Food, Inc. official website spells them out. Factory farms raise animals under inhumane conditions, are dangerous for their workers, pollute surrounding communities, are unsafe to our food system and contribute significantly to global warming. Foodborne illnesses sicken an estimated 76 million Americans and kill an estimated 5,000 each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Add to that the obesity epidemic in this country, with its attendant health issues like diabetes, heart ailments and cancers, and the environmental impact of how our food is produced, and the need for change is evident.

Many of us have already begun to make changes in what we eat and how we shop for it. I suspect that after this film comes out, we’ll be making even more.

Garden Party 26 invites you to “Eat your pride out”

What is wrong with this picture? In the state of Iowa, smack dab in the middle of the nation’s heartland, same sex couples can legally wed. But in the reputedly progressive state of California, the Supreme Court recently upheld Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment that overturned its own ruling affirming the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

I really try to keep politics out of Blue Kitchen, but this is just plain wrong. Couch it in all the religious, moral and “don’t ask, don’t tell” terms you like, it still smacks of the Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws that sought to deny equality to African Americans for decades. This is not about “lifestyle choices”—it’s about equal rights for all Americans. Period.

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Given this current state of affairs, I was especially pleased to hear about Garden Party 26 happening Monday, June 22, in New York. Started by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan in 1984, it remains the only LGBT culinary festival in the country. And it kicks off Gay Pride Week in New York.

ruth-reichlThis year’s party will attract over 2,300 friends and supporters and feature more than 35 food participants. Celebrity chefs this year include Daniel Angerer [Klee Brasserie], Rebecca Charles [Pearl Oyster Bar] and Dave Pasternak [Esca].  And returning as Event Chair this year is Gourmet Editor-in-Chief, Ruth Reichl.

Besides great food and entertainment, there will be a silent auction. And all proceeds of the evening go to support the Center’s vital services. At press time, tickets were still available. For more information about Garden Party 26, visit the Center’s website.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Carey June 3, 2009 at 7:08 pm

You can keep politics in here… There’s something great about food and politics! I agree wholeheartedly. The idea that some of us can make a commitment to another while others cannot makes me sick. Almost as sick as this film will make us all… right? There’s a book out called The Omnivore’s Dilemma – I think offers some good solutions.

Toni June 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Terry, I so agree with you! We seem to have allowed our “morality” to be twisted by politics.

And as for the food thing, I’ve seen footage of corporate chicken farms in the past. UGH!! It’s enough to make one think more than twice about eating corporate meat – ANY kind of meat! Nieman Ranch or Whole Foods organic and sustainable meats – fine. Otherwise, I’ve been moving away from it. Too scary!

Terry B June 3, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Carey—Oh, there are politics galore in my daily life. I just try to keep this site more focused on food. But yeah, rousing discussions over dinner can be fun too. Funny you should mention The Omnivore’s Dilemma—author Michael Pollan is featured in Food, Inc. I’ve seen him interviewed recently; he’s not a vegetarian, but has great ideas about how carefully choosing what we eat and how much can positively affect not only our health, but the planet’s health as well.

Toni—I must admit, I still do buy some “corporate meat,” as you call it. But we find ourselves moving away from that. I suspect after this film comes out, we’ll move much further away from it. At home right now, we have some goat meat bought from Mint Creek Farm, a downstate Illinois farm that raises all its animals in pastures and feeds them no grain. If the kebabs I plan to make with it turn out okay, they’ll be next week’s post.

Ronnie Ann June 4, 2009 at 12:09 am

The way I see it, if you can’t stand politics, stay out of the kitchen. Well…my kitchen that is. Thanks for the post, Terry. How we treat our planet and how we treat people is all one and the same to me. As Aretha told us…it’s about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Terry B June 5, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Well put, Ronnie Ann. Well put.

evi June 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

Dear Terry

This post just blew me away. I understand and respect your desire to stay focused on food and not politics but how cool that you focused on the politics of food. I live in NY and look forward to attending Garden Party 26! Thanks Terry!

Terry B June 7, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Thank you, evi! And you routinely blow me away with your insights on your blog, so right back at you. Garden Party sounds like it will be a lot of fun. Hope you do get to it.

Paulina @ ParticipantMedia June 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Hi Terry,

Thanks so much for promoting Food, Inc. on your site. You may also be interested in the accompanying book, Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer – And What You Can Do About It. The book delves deeper into the issues raised by the movie through 13 essays, most of which were written specifically for it. The book may be purchased through Amazon.com. Thank you!

Lorraine June 13, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Thank you for posting this.

I try not to be fanatical about food– I sometimes buy organic produce and sometimes don’t, for example.

But I draw the line at commercially raised meat. The health and environmental aspects are compelling enough, but what really makes me go the extra mile–or hundred miles–for grassfed meat are the humanitarian issues of mass meat production.

Everyone makes her own choices, but I decided not to eat any meat at all until I could find an ethical farmer who raised and slaughtered meat animals humanely.

It took a few years to find someone, but now there are more and more ethical meat farmers.

Carefully raised meat costs more, so we eat less meat.

I believe the only way to assure you’re getting ethically raised meat is to know the farmer from whom you buy.

“Organic” meat animals are not necessarily treated humanely, though their feedlots may be a trifle less crowded.

Even “grassfed” means little. The animal might have been confined and grain-fed for a lifetime then released from his fetid feedlot for a week of grazing before the trauma of mass transport and brutal slaughter.

If it matters to you, ask the farmer how the animals are raised and how they’re killed. Farmers who graze 100% on grass and use humane mobile or close, family-owned slaughter houses are glad to tell you.

Terry B June 13, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Paulina—I was happy to do it!

Lorraine—You raise some interesting issues. With chicken, “free range” may simply mean the birds have access to an outdoor space, but in reality, mostly stay inside in sometimes grim conditions. We’ve recently begun buying some meats humanely raised on small farms from local farmers markets. We haven’t made the complete switch you have, but we’re probably headed in that direction.

However, there is no denying that producing enough meat to feed a country as large as the US creates many challenges for scaling up humane practices and making it practical and affordable. Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are making serious efforts in working toward compromises in this regard and address consumers’ concerns on their websites.

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