Farmageddon Dir. Kristin Canty

[Kristin Marie Productions; 2011]

Styles: activism, #whitewhine
Others: Carbon Nation; Water; Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox

Kristin Canty set out to make Farmageddon after becoming part of an often misunderstood, somewhat eccentric, and loosely organized national legion of raw milk advocates. As she explains in her film, after the director came to the realization that conventional medicine had “failed” her four-year-old son, who was suffering from several allergies, she became desperate to ease her child’s constant suffering. She eventually discovered the mind-boggling health benefits of unpasteurized milk and soon began a regimen for her son of raw cow’s milk that, in short order, cured him of all his maladies. This makes it all the more outrageous a revelation on her part that many States have outlawed the sale of raw milk and beyond that it’s also a federal offense to transport the life-giving substance across State lines.

Farmageddon’s premise is that government is in league with big agri-business, both of whom are trying to simultaneously make us sick and put small farms out of business, outlawing good food stuffs and promoting chemical-laden, genetically-modified poison. In trying to prove this point, the film meanders between Utopian anarchism, libertarianism, environmental activism, and conspiracy theories about just how evil the USDA and FDA really are. Altogether the doc is fascinating and doesn’t lack for passion, but it’s also a thoroughly myopic and one-sided piece of activist-filmmaking that aims at inducing a paranoia that would be somewhat mitigated by actually taking the time to talk to the government agencies the director despises so much.

Canty makes her case against large farms and their collusion with government regulating authorities through examining various sensational instances of abuse, mismanagement, and cold-hearted hatred on the part of the agro-industrial complex against good, clean, hetero-normative families. The film effectively creates a David+Goliath scenario between several farms, which were raided for alleged health code violations, customs violations, breaking interstate commerce laws, etc., and a behemoth government agency that is all but run by “Big Ag.” Claims that there is a revolving-door policy between companies like Monsanto, ADM, and the USDA are salacious and definitely angry up the blood a bit, but they also feel cheap and unsubstantiated (most likely because they’re cheap and unsubstantiated). The director has compiled some very moving interviews with the victims of presumably unjustified government crackdowns, but aside from a pretty weak attempt to speak with somebody from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, she didn’t bother to interview any of the officials who brought cases against the small farmers, who we’re left to assume are the very embodiment of agrarian virtue.

Most people can probably agree that it’s ridiculous for State governments to make it illegal to buy raw milk from local farmers. And it seems like a case of wonky priorities for the USDA and FDA to spend so much time and money on surveillance and raiding small farms at the same time that people throughout North America were dying after eating spinach from industrial farms rife with e. coli (spinach that had received the blessing of the Dept. of Ag). If this is what Canty had focused on, rather than telling us that the government is trying to outlaw real food and keep children from receiving any nutrients whatsoever, the movie might’ve been a little less exciting, but it would’ve proved a lot more substantial.

Belying a fundamental distrust of government and large agricultural operations, Canty opens herself up to the scrutiny of those less susceptible to knee-jerk responses to portentous Orwellian narratives. Farmageddon works as a call to arms against the agro-industrial complex, further solidifying hatred of the government and its nefarious regulations among a segment of the population who otherwise benefit the most from them. Rather than encouraging people to change the laws of their State by, say, introducing legislation or providing evidence to Congress, Canty seems to have made up her mind that reasoning with these government agencies is a fool’s errand, and civil disobedience is the only route left to those who aren’t bad at being parents.

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