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Food Inc. packs an audience in for Reel North's first 'documentary night'

Reel North, in partnership with the Thompson Public Library, enjoyed a full house Nov. 24 for Food, Inc., their first-ever "documentary night," followed by a short discussion. The 94-minute documentary about the U.S.
McDonald's Restaurant in San Bernardino in 1948.

Reel North, in partnership with the Thompson Public Library, enjoyed a full house Nov. 24 for Food, Inc., their first-ever "documentary night," followed by a short discussion.

The 94-minute documentary about the U.S. food industry was has been nominated in the category of distinguished documentary achievement for an International Documentary Association award. Winners will be announced at a ceremony in Los Angeles Dec. 4.

Food Inc. is up against Afghan Star, a film about four people competing in a television talent show in Afghanistan, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the story of a pair of faded rockers hoping for one last grasp at stardom, Diary of a Times Square Thief, which tells of a search for the writer of a diary that was sold on eBay, and Mugabe and the White African, the story of a white African farmer who defies the government of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe

The International Documentary Association, or IDA, is a Los Angeles-based group that promotes non-fiction filmmaking.

Last year's Food Inc., directed by Robert Kenner, showcases two of the biggest names, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, in the green-foodie-locavore alternative to industrial food critique biz, if one might call it by that large mouthful. "Locavores" usually try to eat food grown or produced locally and are inspired by the 100-Mile Diet, where food is produced within a 100 miles of where it is eaten.

Not All Salmon Are Created Equal: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Global Salmon Farming Systems, a peer reviewed article published recently in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology by Nathan Pelletier, Peter Tyedmers, Ulf Sonesson, Astrid Scholz, Friederike Ziegler, Anna Flysjo, Sarah Kruse, Beatriz Cancino and Howard Silverman, challenges the notion local is always greener and more environmentally friendly by looking at the example of salmon.

The authors come from the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Sustainable Food Production, SIK - Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology in Gothenburg, Sweden, Knowledge Systems, Ecotrust in Portland, Oregon and the School of Food Engineering at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso in Valparaiso, Chile.

Tyedmers, an ecological economist at Dalhousie, argues, "We're making a lot of poor assumptions around why we pursue local," adding, "If we want to prioritize local economies, that's a great thing. But let's understand that it comes at a cost."

To decide if local is really best, consumers need to take a few steps backwards along the food chain, focusing not on where their food was produced, but how, says Tyedmers. In the case of farmed salmon - carnivorous fish that live on pellets made from other fish - that means there is an intense environmental drain caused by making the pellets, which account for around 90 per cent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions the fish generate up to the point of harvest.

Conversely, imported frozen salmon that arrives in local ports via environmentally economical cargo ships can have a bigger impact on reducing the carbon impact of a meal - and global climate change - than choosing organic or local salmon, these scientists argue.

Despite the geographic challenges of vast distances, a lengthy supply line, short growing season and cold climate, the locavore movement enjoys support in Thompson and the surrounding area through the Winnipeg-based Manitoba Food Charter, which just wrapped up its third Northern Harvest Food Security Forum in Thompson in mid-October.

Schlosser, who helped co-produce Food Inc., was the author in 2001 of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (but we learn in the film his favourite meal is still a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate milkshake, but he won't eat food, however, from any of the major fast-food chains or meat produced by the large meatpacking firms.)

In 2006, Pollan authored The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. He is also the author of In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire and several other books.

Schlosser and Pollan provide much of the narration for Food Inc. The documentary offers up any number of interesting and sometimes disturbing facts. Among them:

The "average" supermarket has 47,000 products for sale on its shelves;

30 per cent of agricultural land in the United States is devoted to the production of corn, which is found in one variation or another in almost every processed product available on supermarket shelves. Corn yields per acre have risen from 20 bushels to 200 in recent years. Feed corn is fed not just to cows and chickens, but even fish - including farmed tilapia and salmon;

Chickens used to reach full size in 70 days; now they are double that size in just 48 days. Their organs and bones often can't sustain the added rapid weight;

Richard and Maurice McDonald, originally from New Hampshire, opened their first drive-in restaurant in the Airdrome building in Arcada, California in 1937 with three carhops, selling hot dogs, orange juice, coffee and tea. They moved the Airdrome building to San Bernardino in 1940. Food Inc. argues they brought they brought the "factory system to the back of the food kitchen when they fired all of their carhops 11 years later and opened the original McDonalds fast-food-restaurant featuring their "Speedee Service System," selling 15-cent hamburgers and 10-cent fries, on Dec. 12, 1948.

While big agribusiness, meatpacking and fast-food chains - think also Monsanto, Smithfield Foods, Cargill and Tyson - generally get skewered and broiled in Food Inc., one corporate giant - Wal-Mart - gets generally good reviews for its willingness - with its huge power of scale - to embrace organic foods, such as Gary Hirshberg's Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt from New Hampshire, and to stop selling milk under its own label in the United States from cows treated with the hormone bovine somatatropin (BST), which can boost milk production in cows by about per cent 15 per cent. BST has long been banned in Canada for use in milk.Wal-Mart is also now the leading seller of organic milk in the United States, although some critics say the milk should not be allowed by the U.S. government to be labelled organic because some of it still comes from factory-style dairy farms where the animals are kept in intensive confinement and have been imported from conventional farms as calves.David Cheesewright, Wal-Mart Canada's president and chief executive officer, who was formerly chief operating officer and trading director of Wal-Mart's United Kingdom division, ASDA Group Ltd., says he's committed to positioning Wal-Mart as a leader in corporate social responsibility.

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