Last week I attended the world premiere of a new food-umentary (see what I did there?) playing at the 14th annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Aptly titled “In Organic We Trust,” the documentary explores what Certified Organic really means and whether or not it is truly healthier, as many Americans believe.
The Certified Organic label is as problematic as any other food label, and should never indicate the end to critical dialogue. There are a wealth of food documentaries – Food, Inc., The Garden, King Corn, Super Size Me – but not too many that openly critique the organic industry. I remember reading the book “Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California” by Julie Guthman a few years back, and it truly helped me focus a critical lens on our “sustainable” sector of the food system. Guthman takes readers through the reality of the organic sector, much of which has become industrialized. Little to no attention is paid to the working conditions of field labourers, and organic systems are increasingly unhealthy for the consumers and land.
All of this can be very confusing to consumers, who are trying to make good choices for themselves, their families, and the earth. Some advocates worry that labelling makes consumers less critical, more complacent, in that you feel trust that the system is working for you. Hearing that labels are deceiving is enough to make anyone throw up their hands in despair and go back to the cheaper, conventional products. But eating well is never easy – we just need some help and guidance in navigating the system.
In Organic We Trust does a very good job of laying down the issues with the industrialized, large scale sector of certified organic farms, but also visits farms and vendors who are dedicated to the original idea of the organic movement: small farms that operate using environmentally friendly practices to feed their community. The film really hones in on the fact that you need to have a relationship with your farmer in order to understand where your food comes from, and interviews a number of farmers and food vendors that speak passionately about what the system is doing right.
While the film does a great job representing many consumer concerns, I would have liked to see more attention paid to farmworker rights and social justice. A huge misconception of organic regulations is that the working conditions are more humane. Instead, farmworkers have been left out of regulatory decision making and most of the regulations have to do with man-made chemical usage on farms. In addition, while all consumer demographics have concerns about their food system, the concerns of minority demographics are different than those of more privileged groups of people. It’s one thing to talk about visiting a farmers market and developing relationships with your farmer, but not everyone has the funds or abundance of local farmers markets that are needed to make this possible. Having slightly more diversity in speakers and some attention to social justice would have definitely rounded out this film.
Still, In Organic We Trust is an excellent introduction to the confusing world of Certified Organic, and actually isn’t completely depressing like so many other food documentaries. If you’re interested, there’s a second showing of the film tomorrow, Thursday, February 23rd at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
You can watch the trailer here: