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GOING GREEN - Hungry For Change: Serving Up Production Meals That Are Truly Green

Posted By Allison J. Samon, CHHC, Tuesday, December 13, 2016

”Lunch!” Across 16 years in production, never have I heard a more magical word, especially after an early call and busy morning of shooting. By the time lunch comes, production people like me are hungry and weary. A joyful, chatty line forms at catering. We delight (hopefully) over how good lunch looks, and trade stories about diet resolutions we’re making or breaking. But rarely do we talk about what’s in the food we’re eating … what it’s made of, how it’s grown, if it’s nourishing. In our defense, we just need to feed. We’re an army that marches on its stomach, and we don’t have a lot of time. But the truth is, production meals are typically sourced in ways that may be hazardous to the environment and our health. 

This topic is tough. With debates (and cynicism) already raging over everything from sugar to gluten and dairy, many people just roll their eyes if you bring up something like GMOs. But consider this: The United States Department of Agriculture has estimated some “50 million people in the U.S. obtain their drinking water from groundwater that is potentially contaminated by pesticides and other agricultural chemicals” and “over a billion pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. each year.”1 That’s a staggering threat to the environment and human health. And many of us contribute to this problem one snack, one meal, one production day at a time, without knowing that we ever did so.

As a Certified Holistic Health Coach and an independent producer, I’m passionate about uncovering the hidden environmental impacts of feeding our crews. This is not a petition for vegan or vegetarian productions, although carbon footprint is a different and important topic in its own right. Instead, this is an appeal to get thoughtful about how we source food for productions, both catered meals and craft services, and how it affects the environment, our productivity and our health.

Top: Time to think about where our food comes from
Bottom: GMOs actually encourage greater pesticide use

Production of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is the hottest topic in food supply economics we’ve seen in a generation. It’s a relatively new science that “creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods” and involves much pesticide and herbicide use. The watchdog Non-GMO Project reports that “Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe and have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs. The U.S. and Canadian governments, though, have approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.”2

Some GMOs are designed to secrete a bacterial insecticide called “Bt toxin,” so farmers don’t have to spray them. Once ingested, the toxin causes the bug’s stomach to explode. Studies conducted by the Oregon State Health Division have suggested it may do the same to the microbiota of our digestive tracts.3 That’s a huge health concern, but there are also acute environmental concerns. Because GMOs invite the generous use of toxic herbicides4, this is a trend with serious environmental and economic implications.

So exactly how much herbicide? According to the USDA, between 1996 and 2008 alone, farmers sprayed 383 million pounds of it.5 And Washington State University has analyzed USDA data that shows a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use between 1996 and 2011.6 Over time weeds grew resistant, forcing farmers to spray even more herbicides that continue to settle in our food, soil and water in ever higher volumes.7 Worse, GMO seeds can travel and cross-pollinate. Scientists predict that self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast the effects of global warming and even nuclear waste.8 Monsanto, currently the world leader in GMO seed, also produces “RoundUp,” the best-selling herbicide on the market.

Additionally, and often less talked about, is that GMO production degrades soil, which in turn affects the nutrient density of our food and how our bodies react to otherwise normal nourishment.9 More and more people are developing previously uncommon dietary sensitivities that affect their health and productivity. And because these are sensitivities (or “intolerances”), symptoms are often delayed and don’t appear to be associated with any single factor. Instead, many people have slowly become gluten intolerant or have developed digestive problems, brain fog and chronic fatigue. On set, over time, this makes for an army that isn’t marching very fast or far.

So what can we do? I believe change must begin above the line, and it can start with producers demanding that catering and craft service vendors use foods whose production has been vetted by an accredited organization. The USDA Organic seal is one such option. The Non-GMO Project stamp is another. In California, there’s the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) seal. And there are several others. I believe this can and should be a supplemental certification that vendors can qualify for in the PGA’s Green Production Guide. (Perhaps a “Clean Food” certification?) Participating vendors could sign a pledge that all food resources they use are certified by one of the qualified organizations.

I’ve had the opportunity to test-drive this process a few times, most recently when PGA member Christian Jean asked me to produce his indie short Mojave Junction (2015) using green practices that included clean food. We implemented many green strategies, from carpooling out to our desert location and collaborating with the Bureau of Land Management on script changes that protected the desert ecosystem to serving up completely non-GMO meals and craft services, supported by vendors like Erewhon in West Hollywood and Co-opportunity Natural Foods in Santa Monica. The result was a huge hit with our crew. Over two long days and nights, our people praised the food and couldn’t stop talking about how much energy they had. Just one example: There was no soda on our set (most contain GMO sugars), and nobody missed it. In its place, we offered filtered water and an electrolyte mineral formulation. People kept lining up for more.

Sure, it’s just one indie short produced with a crew of 13 people (and a horse) far away in the desert. Naysayers and cynics will argue that “organic” is too expensive, that contamination is so widespread that certifications don’t mean anything or, my personal favorite, that GMO production is a harmless nonissue. Once upon a time, the same arguments were made against removing lead from paint and gasoline.

Through leadership, we can send a message that production food sourcing matters to the environment and to our health. We can vastly reduce the use of pesticides and toxic herbicides by making a few simple adjustments. And I believe this message can trickle up from an indie short made in the middle of nowhere to the biggest Hollywood blockbusters being produced on studio backlots. We just have to take the first steps.

Allison J. Samon is an independent producer, script supervisor and Emmy Award-winning assistant director, as well as a Certified Holistic Health Coach and the founder of Health Allie Lifestyle & Wellness.


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