Lately Netflix presented a new series about food and the less glamorous side of the industry, simply called Rotten. The series shows another example of an increasing interest in the film- and documentary world to put focus on the food we consume and the industry behind.
With an also increasing interest for watching series, thanks to the same company, it is of greatest importance that a media like Netflix has opened their doors for this kind of documentaries.
I was inspired by the famous Hamlet quote to follow in the path of these documentaries to reflect on why we accept the rotten conditions when it comes to our food culture. The decay occurs in times when a broad and very different group of people and industries appear to have found each other and accepted a greener and more sustainable road in daily life. In many countries, especially in the western world, and among these in a dominant role the actual state to which the original Hamlet quote belongs - Denmark, the different actors have taken huge steps towards a greener society by trying to mitigate CO2 emissions, minimize the usage of pesticides, and encourage us to change to solar and wind energy - just to mention some of the most familiar efforts. The group includes organic farmers, tech companies and even car producers, but also co-players like architects and designers have included thoughts about natural resources, recycling and energy consumption in their work. This has led to an almost contagious effect to brace the whole sustainable industry and inspired organic thinking companies towards a cleaner and less polluting world.
What is the policy?
What is strange and despairing is that albeit this promising development, and despite the impressive efforts and results obtained, we see a strong opposition especially flourishing among a scary high number of politicians. But, why is it so?
One thing is the kind of horrific stories Netflix have chosen to show us about e.g. Chinese producers cheating the system with low quality honey, as the first episode of Rotten is about.
Another thing is when politicians, with all their knowledge and information at hand, neglect some obvious and progressive initiatives that actively add value to society, not only due to environmental and natural issues, but also to the economy. During the last decade, despite one of the worst economic crises and despite having a lot of myth and rumors regarding costs related, sustainability projects and organic products have been able to gain a still increasing market share and attention.
Last year the Danish parliament adopted a new law allowing a higher level of pesticides and use of chemicals by farmers. Although the numbers permitted still are low, it naturally raises a question if this step really was necessary. I have deliberately included this example from my homecountry, one of the sustainable vanguards, which compared to another and probably more discussed question of keeping the coal mines in USA, at the end of the day both are examples of the same symptom. Why would politicians turn the blind eye to an obvious healthy, organic and actually also popular development among a huge many sided group of people (and voters)? What capabilities are to be found and why would you aggressively defend these areas, well knowing (probably) that a majority of the population wouldn’t favor it? Do people really favor coal production above wind or solar power with all the future perspectives at hand, when it comes to energy sources? I have my doubts.
And you get somehow a bit worried when politicians, even in a progressive country like Denmark, despite an also increasing- and quite visible support of sustainability, neglect the tendencies. I think if asked directly I guess most people would find it wrong. Have you ever heard someone call the waiter at a restaurant, “hey more of that pesticide tap water, please!” And neither have I heard or seen hordes of mining remnants screaming for staying in the mines. All due respect to mining and the history of exploiting coal and minerals, but why stick to a source of energy with so many problematic costs, not at least for the human work force, when we have found a whole range of obvious better alternatives.
Well, let’s move on to the pesticides and agriculture debate. Despite being a city boy, I have spent many occasions, especially with Argentine farmers, and therefore I know there are some high costs linked to running a farm. I also acknowledge that farmers need to be allowed some tools to survive. But, the often-heard cost argument is not holding water, so to speak. In another Netflix documentary, I recently and coincidentally stumbled into, bearing the simple title Sustainable (see recommended reading & watching) the cost argument is torn apart. Here, organic farmers argue that they might have a challenge and a lot of hard work, by driving the farm organically. But, by using organic sowing methods and old forgotten “tricks” from mother nature, they in the long run save the costs of using chemical fertilizers. They simply don’ t need the artificial fertilization products. Instead, by adding other plants with the right nutritional patterns they can manage their crops to grow and hinder too many bugs or insects to kill a good harvest. This is a central point due to the counter arguments from traditional farmers of why they use chemical fertilizers like e.g. Round Up. In Sustainable you hear about how a lot of their fellow farmers running highly industrialized farms, which tend to grow bigger and bigger, despite the growth don’t feel an equivalent outcome. They have to struggle with an increasing amount of fertilizers (and therefore higher costs) to secure an out-put they have to reach due to investments and the stressful and tight schedules from their industrialized agriculture.
So, if neither the cost argument nor the environmental one make sense, why do our representatives not listen or turn their head towards the many and massive changes growing up and penetrating the cracks of the traditional way of seeing things, instead? Is it plain ignorance? Do we talk corruption? Has it to do with power? Or is it simply stupidity and a failing to lead?
Lifespan and politics
Well, there might be a dozen of answers to this. One major thing that has changed is technology and what has followed of digitalization leading to cost saving and rationalized solutions in most parts of the world. Compared to the globalization and the end of traditional industrialization a lot of trades and jobs have vanished. It also has had its influence on politics, media and how we communicate. This development has also caused a great deal of frustration from people employed in sedated jobs in e.g. traditional agriculture or the steel industry. Especially if you have lost control over the basic elements in your lifespan, job, education, paying your bills etc.
Whereas it earlier was easier to confess your relation to a certain party or religion, today the whole spectrum of interests has no clear ideological fundament, like e.g. the social democrats and the working class. The party programs and the interest for politics in general are suffering under the new global order. We are getting bombarded with news every minute, so we finally don’ t know what is breaking news or just part of the silly season.
Regarding being a politician, this seems to have turned into a career itself, where it earlier was something you did analogue with your professional career. It wasn’t your bread and butter, or at least not your whole life. This is one explanation of why we have a situation, despite the already described accept of a broad term understanding of sustainability, politically however, laws and rules implemented are not all logic or lead to the best solutions. Well, perhaps politicians do not represent a certain ideology and they don’t have specific segments or classes of society they represent anymore. This said, a politician still may have an interest in listening to the voice of the people, and an interest in working for better solutions benefitting us all.
But, perhaps the whole gravy of politics, media with “fake news” debates along with lobbyism and strong bonds between manufacturers, producers and the health system, is what creates the general statement of something is rotten.
How rotten it all seems, the good news is that it looks like sustainability whether we are talking food, agriculture or good city practices, the concept attracts more and more people both on the productive side and by supporters or consumers. In the 80’s and 90’s the Green party in Germany became a major influential party, so perhaps it is time to call for action again., when it comes to the political part. With very probable disaster scenarios, described lately in the British paper The Guardian, of flooded areas within the next 50 years in metropolitan areas like South Florida, Rio de Janeiro and even London, something and not at least someone has to do something drastically.
So meanwhile Netflix has taken a stand in the film universe, it is up to us to follow suit in the real world.