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The Scarlet & Black

Movie Exposes Meat Culture

“Each dollar we spend supports a series of actions…if you want to change the whole system, you need to go to that farmers’ market and you need to pay that farmer,” said Graham Meriwether, director of American Meat.

Meriwether spoke on Tuesday as part of panel composed of members of the agricultural community following a screening of American Meat.Other members of the panel included Robert Bahrenfuse of BandBFarms in Grinnell, Chris Ely, co-founder and chief executive of Apple Farms Organic and Natural Meat, and Kayla Koether, a Grinnell senior who’s family has been farming in Iowa since the 1850s.

Photograph by Joey Brown

American Meat, which had it’s world premiere in July of 2011, focuses on the meat production industry, particularly at the agricultural level. The documentary examines the current standard methods of production in chicken, pork, and beef while placing these methods within the context of industry-wide movements and the global economy. The film is critical of conventional agriculture, citing its methods as responsible for the decline of the small farm and the small town. Despite its criticism of conventional methods, the film was compassionate towards conventional farmers.

“There is no good agriculture, no bad agriculture,” said Meriwether, during the panel discussion. “Farmers are simply doing what they have to to keep their families going.”

In contrast to the critical view American Meat casts on conventional agriculture, a more positive view is cast on new, alternative methods. Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farm, is prominently featured in the films examination of alternative agriculture. Salatin was also featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which served as inspiration for American Meat. Alternative methods used by Salatin include such original inventions as the “Pigerator” – a composting barn model that incorporates the natural behaviors of pigs and cows – and the “Egg Mobile” – a transport for chickens which allows farmers to diversify land use by livestock species. Due to its progressive methods, Polyface Farm has also become an educational hub, playing host to college groups, as well as putting on a field day that attracts people from all over the nation.

Based on Salatin’s model, the film argues that there is sufficient acreage to service America’s demand for meat, however there

are not enough farmers, though there is a growing number of young people entering the realm of alternative agriculture. To document this influx of young people into the agricultural industry, Meriwether is planning a series of video portraits on young farmers across America.

“We need to look for more young farmers from small liberal arts schools,” said Robert Bahrenfuse. In addition, the panel said Salatin will be a speaker at Grinnell on the seventeenth of April.

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