“We can’t afford to be picky anymore.” These seemingly innocuous words will resonate far more deeply following Valentin Thurn’s journey around the world of modern-day food production. Billed as “a film that will change your life”, 10 Billion – What’s On Your Plate will certainly challenge your eating habits, and will also leave you with a head-swimming load of questions.
Try these for starters: Who will be the winners and losers when the Earth’s population hits 10 billion? Can farmers produce enough food for everyone? Is science and ‘big agriculture’ the answer? In his attempt to explore what many scientists are predicting will be the greatest crisis faced by mankind, Thurn visits small producers who remain loyal to traditional farming practices, as well as businesses like Bayer CropScience, holder of more genetically engineered seed patents than fellow global giant Monsanto.
No matter which side of the fence you lean on it’s worth watching this film for the striking facts and images presented. Did you know just ten corporations control three quarters of the world’s seed market? Hybrid seeds may promise higher yields and region-specific traits designed to improve productivity, but their resilience in drought and flood conditions can be less reliable than heirloom varieties. This is shockingly illustrated in footage of test crops side by side in an Indian rice field. Use of hybrids also means increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, raising costs and the possibility of illness for those who must work with them. A necessary evil or a painful lesson for us all?
On small properties around the world organic farmers tend their land and animals, following principles they believe are signposts for the only possible path forward. They counter the claims of the big agricultural corporations and explain why their own practices are essential for the ultimate survival of the planet. Their convictions are stirring and these farmyard scenes are undoubtedly more appealing than those shot in industry. Economic inequity and the real costs of cheap food are also examined, painting a bleak picture of life for those who are struggling to survive in developing countries.
To pick apart the issues, Thurn gains entry to a series of locations united by the fact that they’re usually secret, no-go areas. It’s equal parts enthralling and confronting. From chicken farming on a monumental scale in India, to an eerie subterranean potash mine in Germany, to soy farms in Mozambique and hydroponic crop factories in Japan – the places and people tell their own stories and offer an invitation for the audience to decide for themselves whether food should be viewed as a commodity or a basic human right. If you’ve never heard of Transition Towns or Community Supported Agriculture, or seen a €250 000 hamburger, then you need to watch this film. If the ramifications of population growth keep you awake at night, then Thurn’s documentary is essential viewing.
10 Billion – What’s On Your Plate dissects and serves up a particularly unpalatable dish. While the Western world grows fatter, increasing numbers of people in less fortunate situations face the constant threat of starvation as unpredictable market pricing limits their access to affordable produce. Valentin Thurn is convinced that to move forward we must respect the interconnectedness of all peoples, and find a way to ensure staple foods are controlled at the local level. There’s no doubt every person interviewed for this film is passionately committed to solving the world food crisis. What’s yet to be decided is whose approach is the right one. Will we be part of the problem? Or the solution?
Reviewed by Jo Vabolis
Rating out of 10:10