By Natalie Roadarmel
The Salem Progressive Film Series is a 501(3) nonprofit organization that has been previewing socially relevant movies to the Salem community for the past 11 years. These films, shown at the Grand Theatre in downtown Salem every third Tuesday of the month, highlight a variety of social issues and give a platform for community discussion only a five minute walk off of campus.
Last Thursday, this organization previewed a documentary aimed at giving a non-biased look at the food industry, entitled “At The Fork”. This film focused on how farm animals are raised for consumption in America and the consequences of farming techniques that stem from a high demand for meat and profits in the industry. It follows John Papola and his vegetarian wife on their journey to learning the truth behind the animal agriculture industry. The duo searches through almost every type of farm, and instead of finding stark capitalists behind every operation they find many individuals who are grappling with the same moral issues they are surrounding factory farming in the United States.
After the film, Kendra Kimbirauskas, the CEO of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, came to speak with the crowd. Kimbirauskas asked the audience to raise their hand if they were a meat eater, then if they were vegetarian, and then vegan. The vast majority of attendees were meat eaters. It was very clear that this event was not hosted solely for the vegan-activist, college student. The people who attended this event were not there to trash the government or to loudly express their personal beliefs. People simply wanted to know what was is happening in the world and how it affects the Salem community.
Kimbirauskas discussed her own experience in animal agriculture and highlighted the effects of this practice on our community. Her project works to give communities across the US the tools they need to avoid factory farming. SRAP works specifically with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and helps farmers implement ecologically safe and humane farming practices while still making a viable income.
She informed the crowd that Oregon is home to the largest dairy in the country, housing 70,000 dairy cows, 70,000 beef cows, and with recently approved plans to bring in 30,000 more cows. Surprising to many, the company that owns this factory farms is Tillamook cheese. This large scale CAFO undermines local agriculture, causes vast amounts of pollution, and depletes Oregon’s natural resources. In return, Oregon now looks like big business to a multitude of other factory farms looking to grow and harvest animals for the meat industry. Oregon does not have the laws to regulate these facilities, and this could result in major consequences for our state and its residents.
But is it not true that accepting more sustainable farming methods will result in less food being produced? Kimbirauskas addressed this point as well. A 2014 EPA study found that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year, equivalent to the weight of 104 Empire State Buildings. Furthermore, “At The Fork” demonstrated that farmers across the country are taking strides to find ways to make their farms more sustainable, as well as successful. This is mostly due to an increase in consumer demand for humanely raised meats.
In the lobby of the theatre, local farms were invited to set up a table and talk to the public about their business. These farms were majority family owned, having specialties ranging from produce to beef. Pictures of the animals they raised were on display and every farm had an opportunity after the film to come on stage and explain their work. Many of the farms highlighted their principles of animal welfare and sustainability.
The Salem Progressive Film Series is a wonderful way for students to get involved in the Salem community outside of campus. This series gave a wide view of the issue, allowed the audience to ask questions, and brought in community members to explain the importance of the issue being discussed. Cidney Kimbell, a board member of SPFS stated that the mission of this film series is “to raise awareness about issues in our community…to provide a public forum for discussion and to motivate our community to become active participants civically”. As students, our voice is one that is important in the Salem community. Take the time to educate yourself, have your voice heard, and talk with other Salem citizenry about local issues at the Salem Progressive Film Series.