Beware food-industrial complex, says Stonyfield’s Hirshberg P’13

Bates Dining Services Director Christine Schwartz talks with Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg P'13 following a screening of the documentary "Food, Inc."

By Roland Adams

It was likely an evening of revelation for some and confirmation for others as Bates scrutinized the food-industrial complex through the lens of an Academy Award-nominated documentary.

An Oct. 26 screening of the 2008 film Food, Inc. was followed by a discussion with Bates parent Gary Hirshberg, president and “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm, the New Hampshire-based producer of organic yogurt. The Olin Concert Hall event was part of the week’s Open to the World: Bates Celebrates Unbounded Learning programming.

Both the film and Hirshberg focused on dramatic changes over the last half-century in the ways Americans and others get their food, what those foods are and how these changes have worked to the detriment of everything from individual health to the economy to the environment.

Underlying all those changes, the Olin audience was told, is a massive shift from production of food by individuals and small, or at least reasonably sized corporations, to a supply system totally controlled by a handful of gargantuan, unbelievably wealthy and powerful firms — with the assistance of the federal government. (Names were named, and can be found on the film’s website.) Worst of all is the very effective veil placed over the real sources of our food today and how they came to be so.

How can the situation be changed? Hirshberg, elaborating on a premise of the movie, said the solution lies in the hands of every individual — in the form of our dollars and how we spend them on food every day.

Buy organic and buy local, for both health and economic reasons, he said, reminding some listeners of the college’s 2008-09 Bates Contemplates Foodconsciousness-raising initiative. Paraphrasing a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, Hirshberg concluded, “The power of one is still the biggest power out there.”

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