Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Becoming a Cohesive Group: Movie Night at Hampton

Lincoln Chaffee As Captain of the Wrestling Team

Hampton, New Hampshire Democrats have been meeting for some years monthly, usually in the basement of the Methodist church, or in a room at the town library, but this year Chris Muns, the president of the group, decided the meetings lacked something and he initiated a "movie night."  

The meeting is usually attended by about a dozen people, but movie night drew more than twice that number. It had been advertised in the Hampton Union newspaper and popcorn was provided, along with bottled water. The demographic of the group divided neatly into the half which was older than 80 and the half in the 50 something range.  Everyone sat on the padded folding chairs which can accommodate the human skeleton comfortably for about 30 minutes before low back pain emerges. 

Last night the assemblage remained in their chairs for over two hours.

Before the movie, Lincoln Chafee, a Democratic candidate for President of the United States visited and he gave his stump speech for about 10 minutes before the movie, and then left. Before leaving, he fielded a few questions, in particular he denied he ever supported privatization of Social Security, which Wikipedia said he had. His voting record in the U.S. Senate had been reviewed by some of the audience, so they knew he was for gun control, against the death penalty, for same sex marriage and he was the one Republican Senator to vote against the war in Iraq.  Then he became a Democrat. So he was on friendly ground. He was not at ease. He seemed just a little too fragile--his voice quavered when he talked about post traumatic stress syndrome among soldiers.  I could believe he felt great sympathy for their suffering; I was not convinced he had the steel to fight Republicans. On the other hand, he had been captain of the Brown University wrestling team, so one might expect he had some steel in him, even if being captain of that particular wrestling team was not like being captain of, say, the Iowa State team.  He certainly radiated empathy for the underclass and the under-served. I did not see as much fight in him as I was looking for.

The movie, Food, Inc. explored the nexus of politics, science, technology, mores, and government policy which underlie our American industrial food chain. It was a sobering affair, but its effect was dissipated a little by a tendency to veer toward the screed, the polemic. A little too much, "the big corporations don't want you to see this..." sort of thing. It also included a segment on the death of a child from pathologic E. coli in hamburger meat. Sad as this case was, it is not clear it signifies callus disregard of public health by moneyed interests. It is likely true government meat inspection has been bought out by corporate meat packers, but this is nothing new in public health and is more a problem with the vulnerability of low level government hacks than with corporate avarice. 

When I was a medical student, I went on a field trip with a New York City meat inspector. We arrived at a packing plant and the inspector never left the office of the plant manager. We all got posters to take home and hang in our dorm rooms. 

My professor of Public Health asked me what I had learned from my day with the meat inspector.
"Nothing," I told him. "We never even saw where they handled the meat. They could have been dragging meat slabs across the floor and we never would have known. It was a total waste of time. If that is what passes for meat inspection, I'm going vegetarian."
"Then you did learn what we sent you out there to learn," the professor said.

Food, Inc. shows a part of America which is not comfortable to think about--apart from the way cows are stuffed together, standing in their own manure so they need prodigious doses of antibiotics to prevent overwhelming infection, and for chickens it's even worse, there is the way food workers are treated, not much better than the animals they kill and butcher. There is collusion between corporate bosses and immigration officers which allow for meat processing plants to function with low wage illegal workers; there is the "company store" system by which chicken farmers get deeper and deeper in debt to Tyson's Corp.; there is the outrage of Monsanto being able to sue into oblivion the farmer whose fields get pollinated by Monsanto genes, blown in from neighboring farms; there are the  bizarrely unconstitutional laws which make it a felony to criticize Colorado meat or vegetables from a variety of states, the so call "veggie libel" laws. 

The octagenarians did not leave their seats watching chickens getting decapitated, or cows being conveyed on hooks above a butchery. When the movie was over, there were a few expressions of outrage and people walked over to the table with the water bottles and drank the way cops used to drink stiff shots of whiskey after a tough day on the beat. 

Old people talked with young people and bonding occurred among Democrats. 

Chris Muns had been successful. He had stirred the pot. 


  1. Why Mad Dog I'm not sure why you were lamenting a less than stellar experience with the meat inspector, when he in fact provided you an impressive work of art to take home. What an interesting dorm wall you must have had..

    I agree Food Inc was illuminating in many ways. Although I knew it was no longer Old MacDonald and his family farm providing most of our food supply, I didn't realize to what extent factory farming now reigned, nor, more importantly, how few players their actually are.These monopolies have created such commercial titans it's hard to imagine consumer interests ever prevailing against them. This was evident in the film-from the woman who's child died of e-coli being unable to succeed at getting very basic legislation passed to improve safety at meat processing plants, to the seed cleaning farmer sued and professionally destroyed by Monsanto. Prior to seeing the film I would have thought the grocery store was the driving force behind our ramped up mass production of food, when in fact it's been the fast food industry. Fast hasn't meant better and there's been a high price paid, by both animals and humans, so we can buy cheap chicken from the Colonel.

    It's also difficult to look at corn in the same way-as some simple plant and food staple when in fact it's an entity that has infiltrated almost every product out there. Especially distasteful was seeing how corn manufacturers didn't stop at saturation of the human market, but species that never naturally ate corn-like cattle-and more disturbingly fish-are now forced to dine on it..and the downside to mass production continues-our heavily subsidized over produced crop even puts farmers in other countries out of business. Apparently there's nothing benign about food and yes, Food Inc was an eye opener..

  2. Ms. Maud,

    I didn't see anyone taking notes, but apparently you retained all the salient points made without them, unless you were surreptitiously recording on your smart phone. I was not surveying the crowd well enough.
    Yes, as Michael Pollan points out, subsidized corn is in if not everything, then most things, in the Market Basket, Hanniford's etc, even beef and salmon.
    Of course, that is all important to the public health, but the corruption and perversity of the law is most bizarre: The first amendment goes right out the window should you open your mouth to criticize Colorado beef and Monsanto sues you into oblivion should the wind blow their genetically altered pollen into your fields. You, of course, cannot sue Monsanto for contaminating your fields because Clarence Thomas and his chums on the Supreme Court don't see your rights, only theirs. As one of the farmers noted, the scales of justice are larded with money.

    Mad Dog