Commentary: Clueless in college
Want to get a quick exposure to the challenges facing animal agriculture and the allied industries of farming and food processing?
Sit in on a local community college class on nutrition or food systems, as I did yesterday, and listen to the comments from the students in attendance.
The class I attended is called Sustainable Food Systems, and the highlight of the day was a screening of the film “FRESH,” a documentary that basically follows the same script—and features many of the same cast of characters—as “Food Inc.” For those who haven’t seen either documentary, the basic message is as follows:
- “Industrial” farming has created a host of problems, from ecological damage to loss of diversity to depopulation of rural America.
- Commercial livestock production is detrimental to animal welfare, environmental preservation and human health and well-being.
- Federal farm subsidies have resulted in an explosion of “cheap” food that is non-nutritious, unsustainable and the cause of most sickness and disease.
If you’ve spent more than five minutes listening to consumer advocates or animal rights activists deliver their screed, you’ve heard these complaints before. They’re not new.
The film featured carefully edited scenes of hens scrambling across a sunlit field, of cattle grazing in a meadow lush with springtime clover and a litter of piglets “running free” inside a dirt-floored pen, as an airy, upbeat orchestral score swelled in the background. In contrast, the scenes of conventional farming and livestock handling were deliberately framed to look as bleak and barren as possible, with a soundtrack consisting of bleating animals layered over the growl of diesel engines.
What was far more interesting than listening to the likes of Joel “The Huckster” Salatin and Michael “My Ego Couldn’t Fit Inside Grand Central Station” Pollan ramble on about the horrors of modern agriculture, however, were the comments made by students during the discussion period following the screening.
A seminar in ignorance
Of course, the two instructors conducting the class were 100 percent sold on the notion that conventional farming, confinement housing and vertically integrated food production are all spawn of Satan. They railed against fast-food chains, condemned supermarkets and kept up a steady drumbeat of rhetorical questions meant to solicit comments, such as “Why don’t they just ban antibiotics in agriculture?”