Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, we are told in Seed: The Untold Story, 96% of the seed varieties have disappeared. Most of this is the result of changes in agriculture that has promoted high yields and corporate profits over biodiversity. It could be argued that this is scientific advancement that will help to feed the world. It can also be argued (and is in the film) that this could be a recipe for disaster.
Directors Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz have made other docs that focus on our connection to nature: Queen of the Sun about bee colony collapse and The Real Dirt on Farmer John about a farmer trying to save his way of farming. In this film they look at the way our food supply is becoming increasingly dependent on a smaller and smaller number of varieties of the foods that have sustained the planet for centuries. The diversity of seed varieties has provided not only different kinds of food, but often has provided food security. The film notes that the Irish Potato Famine was caused by planting only a single variety that happened to be vulnerable to blight. That serves as a cautionary tale as we look at a world that is quickly relying on a few chemical companies that are providing fewer and fewer seeds for planting.
Although other foods are mentioned throughout, the real focus is on corn. A grain that first emerged in Mexico centuries ago, it quickly spread throughout the Americas in many varieties. Some of those varieties are being maintained and protected by Native Americans. They treat it as a sacred food that connects them with their past. Indigenous people throughout the world are especially vulnerable to this push of “progress”. As new methods and foods are brought to them, old ways and often whole economies are brought to an end—often with very bad results.
This is one of a growing number of docs in recent years that have focused on various sides of the current agribusiness shift that includes a dominance of GMO food that is pushed by multinational chemical companies that have now become the main suppliers of many agricultural staples. Each film, this one included, speaks to the need to be stewards of the planet. We especially see that in Seed when we see the Hopi attitudes toward the corn they grow and preserve. They understand that not only do they rely on corn for their lives, the corn relies on them as well. It reminds us of the theme that runs through Siegel and Betz’s other films of the connection that we often fail to recognize between our own lives and the vast and varied world we are a part of.
Photos courtesy of Collective Eye Films