Actress Natalie Portman was a guest last week on the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” talking about a new film that she narrates called “Eating Animals.”
As you may expect by the title of the movie, it is a narrow view of today’s food production. Portman’s comments (see below) on Colbert’s show definitely initiated a reaction from farmers across North America.
Portman’s main premise is that 99% of agriculture consists of “factory farms” more concerned about profit and efficiency than animal care. She continued to infer that only 1% of farmers are doing it right, and those are the farmers that should be supported.
Portman fails to mention that 98% of farms are family-owned and operated, and come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of consumers.
Of course, she didn’t end there. What would a celebrity commenting on food production be without including talk on climate change? Portman named agriculture as the largest polluter on earth due to methane gas produced by cow farts (Editor’s note: it’s burps, too, but that’s neither here nor there). Of course she does not mention that the strides the beef industry has taken to reduce its environmental impact, or that the water needed to produce a kilogram of beef today is 17% less than it was thirty years ago.
Portman also ties farm animals into being the source of all E. coli food poisoning because of poop getting onto vegetables. Apparently it’s lost on her that wild animals poop as well. Additionally on this E. coli point, organic lettuce production has been the source of E. coli recalls in the past, because, yes, improperly composted (or non-composted) manure of all kinds is a source of food contamination. In this case, organic is not a solution, Ms. Portman.
The part of the interview that really twisted me was when Portman told Colbert that she does not judge people that consume animal protein; she would never tell someone what to do. But isn’t telling people what to do the reason she made the movie in the first place?
On RealAg Radio on Tuesday, Crystal Mackay from the Canadian Center for Food Integrity, believes that even though celebrities are at the bottom of the list for credibility with consumers in terms of food safety, “celebrities have a massive share of voice and it is not something to be underestimated.” Mackay continued, “Talk to our friends in the wheat industry and the gluten free battle. If a celebrity comes up with a new food trend and says, if you eat like this, you will look like this, we have to take that impact seriously.”
Hear Crystal MacKay of the Canadian Center for Food Integrity on whether celebrity comments matter in impacting consumer decision-making:
For people like Portman, this is not about choice or reality. This is about a one-way street of thinking, no matter the consequences on food supply.
I feel that people deserve choice but a movie like “Eating Animals” is just another example of pushing a narrative that disregards facts.
Is there room for improvement on animal care? Are producers focused on sustainability? Can you be concerned about productivity and food safety at the same time? The clear answer to all of these questions is ‘yes,’ no matter what spin Natalie Portman and other celebrities like her are trying to sell to the consumer.
Watch the full appearance by Portman on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Watch the trailer to Eating Animals