If there’s just one message viewers can take from At the Fork it is that they have a choice. They have a choice in what they eat, and a choice in what kind of agriculture to support.
As this month’s Salem Progressive Film Series selection, At the Fork gives a frank, but a fair and compassionate look at how farm animals are raised for human consumption.
Viewers accompany omnivore John Papola, and his vegetarian wife Lisa as they set out across America to learn how pigs, cattle, and chickens live before they make their way to our plates. They also visit dairies and egg farms.
The filmmakers wrestle with the moral and economical pressures farmers face. In today’s world, farmers are raising animals in ever more confining ways to meet consumer demands for cheap and easily accessible meat.
Their lives inside factory farms is often painful. Some in the film say in today’s world animals are treated like crops or machines rather than sentient beings with feelings.
The film falls squarely into the mission of Salem Progressive Film Series to educate and encourage action.
Five mid-Willamette Valley farmers will be on hand in the theater lobby the night of the film. Those include Verdant Hills Farms, Jo-Le Farms, Leaping Lambs Farm, Sublime Organics, Deck Family Farms and Friends of Family Farmers. Each one raises animals on pasture rather than in warehouses.
“With this film we hope to encourage the audience to pay closer attention to where they get their meat and to support local ranchers/farmers here in the Willamette Valley who believe that humane, sustainable, pasture-raised animal agriculture is the best way to produce animal products,” film series board member Cindy Kimball said in a prepared statement.
Following the film, guest speaker Kendra Kimbirauskas, the CEO of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), based in Salem, will talk about the effects of factory farms.
A Scio farmer who grew up on a farm in Michigan, Kimbirauskas has witnessed how factory farms can harm rural communities, the environment, the economy and animals.
“There is a better way, and we do have the choice,” Kimbirauskas said, stressing that consumers are key. “Not everybody is a meat eater, but if you are it is incumbent on you to make sure the meat you are eating and providing to your family fits into your values,” she said.
SRAP works throughout the United States helping towns and farming communities protect themselves from effects of factory farms, which are growing in size and number, particularly in the Midwest.
Most factory farms “come in under the radar” and start operating before the public is aware of them or can try to stop them. “It’s not something people want in their backyards,” she said.
Likewise, factory farm conditions for animals also go largely unknown. Perhaps, not everybody knows that in a factory farm, an egg-laying hen lives in a space no bigger than a sheet of paper. The space is so small she can’t bob her head, stretch her legs, flap her wings or turn around.
Injected with hormones and other chemicals, broiler chickens now grow so quickly with such large breasts they are in constant pain and can’t walk.
Education has led to changes. The film injects hope as farmers choose different routes and new labeling allows consumers to make choices at grocery stores and restaurants.
At the Fork shows farms where animals can exhibit their natural behaviors, where, for instance, pigs can root or roll on grass, a huge contrast to sow crates where they can’t stand up or turn over.
In the quest for better conditions for farm animals, the tendency may be to cast farmers as villains, but that’s a mistake, said former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in the film.
Farmers’ goals are to protect and provide a safe, reliable food supply, and there are “strong political and economic forces driving them to monopolize,” he said.
In the end, the film holds powerful sway with the moral argument that farmers and consumers can and should place more stock in animal welfare.
Even one farmer has found economic rewards as he took egg-laying hens out of battery cages and provided perches, and access to the outdoors.
“Every time we took another step toward animal welfare we found our health went up, our productivity went up, our feed conversions improved. We bucked the system,” said John Brunnquell, president of Egg Innovations.
Pig farmer Dave Struthers of Legacy Farm says, in the film, that sow crates and other farming practices can be justified because humans have dominion over animals.
But organic beef farmer Kevin Fulton argues it is also a human obligation to treat animals well.
At The Fork
Directed by John Papola
7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17
191 High St. NE, Salem
Salem Progressive Film Series