Last year Delaware Academy high school student Katie Barnhart took advantage of an offer made by the local organization Farm Catskills to see a new movie titled ‘Food, Inc.’ by Robert Kenner. Her experience was the catalyst that brought about the day of local foods on March 10 at her school involving teachers, farmers, community members, staff and perhaps most importantly fellow students.
Katie stated that the movie ‘Food, Inc.’ amazed her and after seeing the movie on a Thursday night reported her impressions to her high school science educator Kathryn Davino the following day. Davino was intrigued enough to attend the second showing that weekend and stated that the movie had a life-changing effect on her; what she eats, how she shops, her views food and the importance of food issues as a part of education.
This prompted Kathryn to speak with Denise Warren of Stone and Thistle Farm/ Kortright Creamery in East Meredith where she buys her eggs. Denise is a member of the Board of Directors for Farm Catskills, a local not for profit organization that is a conduit for farmers, consumers, landowners and activist to take action on a local level regarding a multitude of agricultural issues. Their conversation led to many other discussions and plans were made to bring this day of local foods to the Delhi High School where the movie ‘Food, Inc.’ was shown.
Prior to the morning showing of ‘Food, Inc.’ that was optional with a study hall provided for student who chose not to see it. The high schoolers were given an introduction to the content of the movie and briefed that there were some potentially disturbing scenes and anyone who felt a need to leave were allowed to do so at any time during the film. Davino felt that very few students left during the film and most returned after a short break.
The documentary style film address with graphic details what happens to animals in large processing plants, how they are killed and rendered before finding their way to grocery stores and fast food restaurants. An introduction to the production, provided by the Center for Ecoliteracy states that the film “provides a critical look at the industrialized nature of our country’s food supply. It explores the relationship between how our food is produced and human health, workers’ rights, animal welfare and other issues.” The introduction continues with credits to film maker Robert Kenner and investigative authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan who initiate questions about our nations complicated food systems and how individuals have the power to take action for change.
For students who saw the movie for the first time on March 10, the impressions were varied from comments such as ‘intense’, ‘upsetting’, ‘makes you not want to eat fast food again’ and ‘I had no idea…’. The films integrity draws most viewers in to watch and listen instead of repulsing them to the point of not being able to finish seeing the entire documentary. Dairy farmer Barb Hanselman said that the film brings up the question of “Why has it come to this?” She continued with an unfortunately all too brief explanation of the relationship of world trade, commodities and rank amongst the nations of the world. Davino agreed and concluded that it is a very complex issue
Davino emphasized that showing the film at school coupled with the local foods lunch and the afternoon discussion groups, thirteen in all, is a huge step toward awareness for not only students but the community as well. The three components of day; the film, lunch and group meetings were the perfect introduction to future lessons in science, agriculture, health, history, ethics and business. The day’s experiences provided many levels of information and provided an excellent conclusion where students had an opportunity in smaller groups to voice questions, concerns and impressions in an organized discussion.
The discussion groups included about 20 students, a faculty member, a student spokesperson and a representative of Farm Catskills or a local farmer. Following introductions the opening statement for all to comment on was what each person’s perception of the movie was and responses where recorded on poster sheets. One group participant felt that the movie did not include enough emphasis on the consumers responsibility to make decisions, comments from others followed. Another student mentioned that they thought the movie was interesting and they learned a lot. Several students talked about how they were impacted by the unjustness of how migrant laborers are treated. These comments and many more were followed by listing ideas for action and a final gathering in the school auditorium for a conclusion.