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What is any food system but a multitude of bites?

We often hear that we can't feed the world with organic farming, living wages, and sustainable, kind methods. After watching Cloud Atlas, this week, I thought again that this view comes from focusing narrowly on the purchase of food. (Cheap = good.) It ignores the value of:

  • Health-care savings and the simple joy that comes from being healthy
  • Jobs and vibrant communities that come from supporting to our local farmers and folks who prepare healthy food
  • Productivity for our economy when our workers are healthy and alert
  • Decent, healthy lives for farm workers and their who are exposed to fewer pesticides and other toxins
  • Allowing poor countries to use their own resources
  • Nurturing the soil to help withstand droughts
  • Slowing global warming and all the related costs, such as we've just seen with superstorm Sandy

Cloud Atlas is based on my favorite book, in which David Mitchell nests and connects six stories set in different times and genres, moving from the 1800s to the far future. The film condenses and elevates his masterpiece, allowing for frequent switches among the stories to emphasize themes and build excitement in a way that would have been incomprehensible in print. It extends cinema itself, shooting to second place in my list of favorite movies, right after Casablanca.

Cloud Atlas shows forces that pull our society between "tooth & claw" and sharing: race, gender, age, class, and sexual identity. It addresses workers' rights, corporatism, artistic freedom, and environmentalism.

Several reviews identify the main theme as the butterfly effect: even small acts have consequences. Yes, but take this idea up a level to see that these small acts fuel the evolution of ideas and thus societies. They are made within world views that lead toward a compassionate, modern society that values freedom or toward a barbaric, selfish one willing to discriminate against or imprison its inhabitants. Or worse.

One of the stories involves a restaurant. Even in my most paranoid moments, I don't think that even Chick-fil-A is this bad. But there is serious cruelty and inequality embedded in our food systems, as we've read about in Tomatoland and seen in Food Inc. And there's the small but cumulatively damaging choices we make that have led to the obesity epidemic and environmental disaster.

We need to support uplifting, empowering works of art like Cloud Atlas.

  • Please go see Cloud Atlas in the theater. It's gorgeous, amazing movie (see my full review here, with notes about how it relates to politics and rhetoric). If you haven't read the book yet, just relax and let the movie wash over you at first. It will be gorgeous and confusing, but will make sense later. It does show the violence and sex needed to tell this story. To my relief, the most disturbing parts are off camera or in the distance, not wallowed in.
  • Read the brilliantly structured and gripping book for a deeper focus on how our actions influence the evolution of society, not to mention what the heck was going on in the movie.

Vote with your fork for a better world.

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