From the Oscar nod for the anti-farming documentary, Food Inc., to Gwyneth Paltrow hyping meatless recipes in her GOOP newsletter, Hollywood's enthusiasm for all things vegan and organic seems to be at an all-time high. But with most Americans still choosing conventionally raised foods, elitist foodies' moment in the limelight could be just that — a moment.
In this tough economy, it seems Marie Antoinnette-ish for America's wealthy entertainers to promote an eating ethic that would bankrupt a family budget. It's easy for celebrities to condemn large-scale farming. They don't have to worry about a grocery bill.
But that hasn't stopped Hollywood's out-of-touch food purists from guilt-tripping America into changing the way we eat.
In the past year, celebrity propaganda campaigns have become ubiquitous. Longtime PETA activist and occasional actress Alicia Silverstone wrote a vegan cookbook. And vegan techno musician Moby is publishing a book about livestock farming.
Promoting the health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle may seem intuitive, but it shouldn't be. A 2006 Oxford University study found that vegetarians are just as likely as omnivores to die from strokes and colon, breast and prostate cancer.
And research has repeatedly shown that organic produce is no healthier than its conventionally grown counterpart. The organic label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms, is no more than a "marketing program." So buy organic if it soothes your conscience, but you're not getting a health benefit to justify those $6 carrots.
Likewise, proposals to convert more farmland to organic operations may feel good. But organic farms produce less food with every acre. If today's cattlemen reverted to the agriculture of 60 years ago, they would need an additional 165 million acres — an extra land mass roughly the size of Texas — to produce the same amount of beef. That land would have to come from somewhere. How enthusiastic is Hollywood about clear-cutting forests to make room for "free range" animals?
If organic produce isn't necessarily better for the environment, and avoiding meat doesn't prevent you from getting cancer, maybe Hollywood should just go back to making movies again. Preferably silent ones. I think the rest of us can handle the grocery shopping on our own.