Today began with an early morning in Salt Lake City, Utah. We woke up, packed our bags, and headed to Zion National Park. The drive through Utah was breathtaking, with massive, uninhabited mountains and wide open roads all around us. After catching up on a bit of sleep, we watched a powerful documentary called Food, Inc.
The revealing film exposed the realities of the food industry in this country. Food, being such a vital product in life, is something most of us take for granted. This is especially true on this trip, where all of our meals are perfectly orchestrated to just appear in front of us at the perfect time, wherever we might be. However, like many other aspects of this experience and our lives, we must realize our connections to everything we come in contact with – whether it be the “invisible people” who clean our hotel rooms or the farmers that raise the cows that become the beef in our burgers. As we have learned throughout our journey, we must acknowledge and respect these little connections. One of the main focuses of the film was exposing the reality that only a few corporations mass produce most of the meat that is consumed in the United States. Additionally, the companies, including Tyson and Swift, operate less like farms and more like factories, posing many threats to both consumers and workers. The focuses of these businesses have evolved from supplying America with edible meat to maximizing profits, as well as producing a standard, uniform product for companies like McDonald’s and Burger King. With factory farms paying employees low wages while cheaply mass-producing meat, prices for products like a Big Mac or a Whopper can be set far lower than healthy produce. This creates a catch-22 for many Americans who cannot afford to eat a healthy diet, pushing them to resort to fast food to provide an affordable, filling, meal. This is one of the reasons obesity and diabetes are becoming epidemics in the United States. Then, for many diabetics, a decision has to be made between eating a healthier diet or paying for medication. The whole system is skewed. In addition, the FDA is run by the same people who own or work for these massive corporations, causing the government not to adequately address the health issues associated with factory farms, while endorsing them more than honest, organic farmers. For me, the main message of the film was not to be a vegetarian or to boycott meat, but instead, to be conscious about which companies I put my money into. Though it may seem like an insignificant action, it is important, even as individuals, to support the businesses whose practices we believe in. Even just that can make all the difference.
After lunch, we made our way into Zion National Park. The huge plateaus and rock formations were simply awe-inspiring. Pictures, nor words, can capture the majesty of being surrounded by unspoiled wilderness. When we got to the trail, we stopped by the Virgin River and transitioned our discussion from food to water. We talked about the increasing scarcity of water and its absolute necessity. The idea of a lack of water is usually reserved for third world countries, but the reality is that people in big metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas have water shortages. This is an urgent problem that must be solved.
After discussing water, we began our hike into the park. The walls of the canyon, the river, and the water seeping out of the rocks were all beautiful. While America has diverse political views on topics from guns to gay marriage, global warming to abortion – it also has diverse landscapes, from abundant trees in Atlanta to vast plains in Kansas, as well as jaw-dropping cliffs in Utah. It is always nice to reflect on all of the knowledge gained in the past week in a beautiful, serene place.
After the hike and playing in the river, we drove out of Zion to a little park with beautiful views from every angle. There, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to lead a Reconstructionist Friday night service along with a few other Etgarians. One of the main ideas of Reconstructionist Judaism is finding God in places other than a siddur or a synagogue, so holding a service among the majesty of the mountains was a perfect place, and a meaningful representation of this sect of Judaism. We sat in a circle on the grass, sang prayers with a guitar, while mixing in inspiring quotes from the bumper stickers all over our bus. We closed the service by singing a passionate rendition of I’m Proud to Be an American. Then, we had a barbeque with burgers and hot dogs, while celebrating a very special occasion in the Etgar family – the birthday of our bus driver, Earle. Earle is a fundamental part of Etgar, and without him, the journey simply could not occur.
After dinner and a bit more time to chill in the park, we had an informal discussion about the food industry, and then headed back to the hotel. I am excited to see more of America’s natural beauty tomorrow at the Grand Canyon!