On Monday the Daily News YO! Features cover story is about "Food, Inc.", the movie by Robert Kenner that attempts to "pull back the curtain" from modern-day industrial agriculture and show Americans where their food comes from.
The article chronicles some of the brick walls and smokescreens Kenner encountered in trying to get and share basic info about the sources of our food, something more people are paying attention to - or trying to, anyway - all the time. "The system is broken" is Kenner's pithy summary of the situation, and he goes so far as to compare our food production system to our failed credit system, calling both fundamentally unsustainable.
The sometimes disturbing truth about what goes on in the production of especially animal-based foods "violated this myth that's being propagated: that our food comes from a small farm," Kenner says. And while it's true that myth is being pushed, there's a corrolary: That if we just got rid of "factory farming," the system would be fine, wholesome and healthful.
However, as former farmer/ranchers such as Howard Lyman (who, along with Oprah Winfrey, was sued by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for suggesting on her show that Mad Cow would be discovered in US herds) and Harold Brown have made clear from their own testimony, having small, family farms handle and process animals is hardly a viable solution: For one thing, the sheer volume of meat and dairy now consumed by Americans is impossible to generate by those methods, and even if it were, most of us would refuse to pay what it would cost. Additionally, organizations such as Humane Myth are pulling the proverbial curtain even further back, showing that many of the abuses, cruelties and injustices consumers find so distasteful in "factory farming" are actually rooted in the fundamental process of breeding, feeding and killing animals.
Even from an ecological standpoint there's cognitive dissonance: While concentration of food animals produces a more concentrated waste that can do serious harm to the environment more quickly, the scientists who authored the 2006 report Livestock's Long Shadow (the one that showed animal foods to be responsible for more greenhouse gases than cars) actually suggested more, not less, concentration of animals purely as a measure to reduce overall greenhouse gases.
So it looks like consumers who care about the wider world their are caught between a rock and a hard place. Is there any way that we can, you know, work it out? Maybe we should ask Paul McCartney.