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Food for Thought. 28 minutes, 1990. KCET. $59.00.

Food for Thought   

REVIEW of Food for Thought:

The documentary, Food for Thought, examines the toll our industrialized food system is taking on the health of the environment. The greatest cause of ecological destruction in this system, they say, is our tremendous consumption of beef. Raising cattle for meat is very resource intensive, requiring many pounds of water, grain and topsoil to produce only one pound of beef. The production of beef also creates toxic levels of methane gas and sewage, which negatively affects water sources and the atmosphere. By using the example of a gas-guzzling automobile, the film demonstrates how cattle also require energy and resources that are indeed in limited supply.

Frances Moore Lappé, in her 1971 groundbreaking book, Diet for a Small Planet, called for a widespread transition to vegetarianism in order to preserve our resources and to feed an ever-growing population. She is interviewed in the film along with biologist Paul Ehrlich who both say that our meat consumption habits must change if any hope exists for the future of the human species. Also represented are the perspectives of cattle ranchers and the California Beef Council. They propose that ranchers are historically good stewards of the land, and ranching, when managed correctly, can be good for ecological health.

Despite its clear leaning toward decreased meat consumption, the film portrays multiple perspectives on this issue relatively successfully, ultimately leaving the verdict up to viewers. The concepts used in the film are easily digestible and viewers will gain a basic understanding of our food system’s use of energy and effect on global warming. However, the debate for ecological health through vegetarianism may be somewhat oversimplified here, since the film does not discuss chemical agriculture or monocultures, both of which have also been criticized for disrupting ecological health. Furthermore, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have been almost entirely ignored, which may be attributed to the date the documentary was filmed.

Decreasing our meat consumption for environmental health is certainly a multi-faceted and highly politicized topic. The replacement of meat, and beef especially, as a large portion of the Western diet is a luxury, perhaps, has gone too far, some say. Advocates of cattle production argue that cattle can be a part of a healthy environmental landscape in moderation. Ethically produced meat allows for people to enjoy the benefits of meat without disregarding environmental harms so the argument goes. Defining what ethical meat consumption is and learning the appropriate place for meat in our diets are the tasks that remain for food citizens.

Selected Resources

Death on a Factory Farm. Dirs. Tom Simon and Sarah Teale. Home Box Office Domumentaries, 2009. Film.

Ferré, Frederick. “Moderation, Morals, and Meat.” Food for Thought: The Debate Over Eating Meat. Ed. Steve F. Sapontzis. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004. 315-326. Print.

Lappé, Frances Moore. Diet for a Small Planet: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. Print.

Pfeiffer, Dale Allen. Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2006. Print.

Lia Spaniolo
Michigan State University

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for Food for Thought:

1. What are your reactions to the film? Did you learn anything new?

2. Do you agree with the argument that we need to reduce our meat consumption to preserve the health of the environment? Why or why not?

3. What are some of the environmental problems with eating too much meat, and beef in particular?

4. What does it mean that meat production is not very energy efficient?

5. From cattle ranchers’ perspectives, how can grazing cattle be in balance with nature? Do you agree with this perspective? Why or why not?

6. Was there a time in American history when our consumption of cattle and other animals was ecologically balanced? How is it similar and/or different today?

7. Can you think of reasons other than the environment to decrease our consumption of meat?

8. Why do you think people of Western culture consume more meat than people of other cultures? How did it get to be this way?

9. Can you think of additional changes we can make to our food system that contribute to ecological health?

10. What is the appropriate place for meat in your personal diet? How much do you think you should be consuming?

11. What kinds of foods could replace animal protein in your diet should you choose to consume less meat or none at all?

12. What does ethical meat consumption mean to you? Can such a thing exist?

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