Food, Inc. Inspires Educated Food Choices at Staples


Eliza Llewellyn

The salad bar is always a healthy alternative to meat for vegetarian's at Staples.

Eliza Llewellyn, Staff Writer

Surrounded by boats of chicken fries, cheeseburgers, and Sloppy Joes, Daniela Al-Saleh ‘14 feasts on leafy greens and tofu from the salad bar. Al-Saleh is one of the many vegetarians at Staples. “For lunch I always get salad,” Al-Saleh said, stabbing a broccoli floret with a fork.

Al- Saleh became a vegetarian after watching the documentary Food, Inc. The documentary discusses the ethical, environmental, and financial controversies surrounding the food industry. Now, the video is being shown to junior health classes and has inspired a variety of reactions in viewers, from repulsion to inspiration.

“I think everyone should watch [Food, Inc.],” said Kelly Garrity, a health teacher at Staples.

“I think it’s enlightening.” Garrity incorporated the documentary in the health curriculum as a part of the nutrition unit. According to Garrity, students already have covered basic nutrition, including food pyramids and calorie calculating, almost every year in previous health classes. One purpose of showing the video is to expose students to the food industry and the large corporations that monopolize it. Before watching the video, many are unaware of how their food is grown and manufactured.

Food, Inc. does not gloss over any aspects of the industry. The documentary reveals the food industry’s genetic modification of crops, chemical additives, poor treatment of workers, and unethical focus on profit. It also includes graphic footage of animal slaughter.

Students were warned beforehand of possibly disturbing scenes and given the option to leave the classroom for these segments. “I wasn’t trying to gross people out,” Garrity said, “but to make them think critically.” Garrity emphasizes that her primary purpose in showing the video is to empower students to make educated choices in their food selections.

Al-Saleh was inspired to become vegetarian after watching the video outside of school. “It’s just disgusting,” she said, criticizing the treatment of animals by the food industry. Other students who watched the film were also affected. “For the first few weeks you’ll be thinking about your food,” said Blake Ratner ‘13. The film’s graphic nature was “disgusting but not lasting,” according to Ratner.

In the short term at least, juniors who have seen the film are more conscious of what they are putting on their plates.  “My dad made me a whole chicken and I didn’t eat it,” said Zach Speranza ‘13. According to Speranza, the film was a worthwhile addition to the curriculum. It exposed students to realities of the food industry that otherwise would stay behind closed doors and colorful packaging.

Jackie Appell ‘13, became pescatarian after learning about animal cruelty and slaughter. Appell, originally vegetarian, incorporates fish in her diet as a source of protein. After seeing Food, Inc. in heatlh, Appell was repulsed. “I could never imagine going back to red meat,” said Appell, who was a vegetarian from 2007 to March of 2011 and now is pescatarian.

Zoe Cohen ’13 has been cutting back on meat regularly after watching a video similar to Food, Inc. on Facebook. After watching footage of animals being slaughtered, Cohen has reduced her meat consumption. “The less demand [for meat], the less animals are killed,” Cohen said.

Cohen, Appell, and Al-Saleh are among many at Staples who are cutting back on meat.  Cohen, who loves cheeseburgers, admits that she struggles with giving up meat from her diet.  However, in Westport, there is no shortage of vegetarian choices. “There is always an option for me at a restaurant,” Appell said.

Westport is a hotspot for those who prefer environmentally friendly or ethically conscious food choices. The Organic Market, the Fountain of Youth food store, and the Whole Foods chain offer all-organic products. Another choice for the community comes from regularly scheduled farmer’s markets that offer locally grown products. Organic produce is free of additives, pesticides, is not genetically modified, and is minimally processed. Livestock must be healthy, humanely treated, and free of antibiotics and growth hormones to be labeled organic. By shopping organic, consumers can ensure that food is natural and environmentally-clean from farm to fork.  “Everyone should be aware of what they’re putting in their mouth,” Al-Saleh said.