NPR critique of “Food, Inc” points to important divide

How to reach across the GMO corn rows: A brief segment on NPR reported from Kansas City has the food-politics blogosphere and Twitter kingdom bristling. (La Vida Locavore calls it a "one-sided shallow hit piece," while the Organic Nation blog accuses NPR of pandering to its advertiser, Monsanto.) It's not quite as dire as portrayed. The piece's message, that "ordinary farmers — the people who grow the lion's share of what America eats — have largely been left out of the mainstream media debate over the film," is in fact somewhat misleading: it's pretty clear that most (possibly all) of the farmers interviewed for the piece have not even seen "Food, Inc." yet — just the trailer, if that. Trent Loos, a Nebraska rancher and blogger, calls it a "slap in the face to every farmer and ranch family in this country… a concerted effort to mislead the American public about what is happening in American agriculture." But if one tracks down Loos's written comments about the film, he doesn't specify any inaccuracies — just makes very defensive comments about not wanting to go back to 19th-century farming practices. Meanwhile, NPR also interviews Kansas GMO corn and soy grower Brandon Oswalt, who says he's no fan of Monsanto's controls and tactics, yet adds that "you may not like it, but you got to roll with it, or you're going to get rolled aside" — a depressingly pragmatic view echoed by other farmers in the film. Oswalt also sums up why conventional farmers are feeling touchy: "If you attack the things that are paying our living, and you say that's no good, you're going to do away with the last generation of farmers on the land." He's right. We've written before here that "Food, Inc." does not portray production farmers as the enemy, even if Big Bad Agribiz is spinning it that way. But we're going to have to offer them more role models than just the one-size-farm-fits-all Joel Salatin.

5 Responsesto “NPR critique of “Food, Inc” points to important divide”

  1. A big problem is they say that most ordinary farmers are ignored. The reality is that what they mean is "Most Big Ag / Conventional / Huge" farmers. There are about 100,000 of them. There are several million "ordinary small farmers" who they would like to ignore. The USDA said long ago, "Get Big or Get Out" and that has been the mentality. What we need is fewer Big Ag farms and millions of small ag farms. Small Ag can feed the world. Monstersanto and their ilk don't like Small Ag because we're harder to control, to manipulate. They won't make such big bucks off us. It's far easier for them to intimidate and interrogate a few big farms.

  2. Ed Bruske says:

    I think it's safe to say that if the only place Food Inc. is showing in the District of Columbia, your nation's capitol, is the art house E Street Cinema, this is not a film destined to be viewed by most farmers in the hinterland. I'm not at all surprised they haven't seen it. And does everything that doesn't hew to the foodorati's party line have to be tagged a "one-sided shallow hit piece." Is there something wrong with an alternate point of view? A conversation?

  3. JayinPortland says:

    Ed - you don't have to "hew to our line" (whatever that is), but you are going to have to be honest in the debate.

    This film does not ignore or attack farmers, nor does it seek to run them off their land (nor do I, or anybody I know), as some would have you believe. And yes, this was a shallow hit piece because it spent 4 and a half minutes building up a strawman, using the movie and fanning flames on a current 'controversy' just to get across an ideological viewpoint.

    Of course, they didn't actually cite one instance in which I or anybody else sought to, as they claimed, "run farmers off their land", or leave them out of the debate.  And they didn't cite one instance in which that was the case, because such a case doesn't exist.

    As the old saying goes - you're entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own "facts". The conversation is out there, and all sides are being heard.

    However, we can do without attacks upon "East and West Coast city-goers", and b.s. like "if you attack Monsanto, you are running the last generation of independent family farmers of their land". I call b.s. where I see it, and this NPR piece contained enough crap to fertilize every field within listening distance of the NPR affiliates that aired it.

  4. Jay: I think you're conflating the piece with the farmers who were interviewed in it. There were plenty of opinions expressed in the short piece, and while you might disagree with them, I don't think that makes it a "hit piece," nor makes your opinions somehow more "fact-y" than those expressed in it. Although I do wish the reporter had found farmers to interview who'd seen the movie. Ed is correct that this film is primarily being seen and debated by coastal citygoers, and as I meant to convey in the squib above, that the debate about the future of our food system is being carried on far away from them, both literally and metaphorically, has got to freak conventional farmers out.

    You can call b.s. wherever and whenever you want, but as long as you're just preaching to the b.s.-hating choir, we're not going to make much progress in any sort of dialogue with the people whose food-growing practices we'd most like to find a more sustainable alternative for.

  5. JayinPortland says:

    Bonnie: the opinions expressed in that  piece were along the lines of  "some say this" (enter strawman), while farmers say this.  One farmer talks.  What were the other opinions expressed there?

    I didn't hear any, besides "this guy was born on a farm", segueing into  some b.s. "those who 'attack' Monsanto will only run others like him off their farms"...

    "and as I meant to convey in the squib above, that the debate about the future of our food system is being carried on far away from them, both literally and metaphorically, has got to freak conventional farmers out."

    Who exactly is leaving farmers out of the debate again?  And who's "running them off their land"?  It ain't me or you, Bonnie.  And the film is not an attack upon farmers, conventional or otherwise.

    Pieces like this from NPR contribute absolutely nothing to the debate.