Rated PG • 94 minutes • In Theaters June 12, 2009
Today we walk through a market and are amazed at the 40,000 or so different products we may find down the isles, excited at the cornucopia of food that has been laid out for us, ready to choose one item over another due only to the smallest of details.
Too bad that diversity is a lie.
This opens the film, “Food, Inc.,” an honest and sometimes eye-opening portrait of how food actually gets from the farm to our plate. It builds into an indictment on the giant food business that is monopolized by a few companies existing only to profit from the misery of animals and humans alike.
Veteran journalists Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, are our tour guides through the film’s story. The message is not pro-organic or anti-meat, but within ten minutes there’s clearly an agenda. Some dark corners of the industry are exposed and in order to make the case against huge meatpacking plants, there are several graphic scenes of animals being slaughtered, giving vindication to Vegetarians.
We see the inhumane treatment of chickens as they fatten up (it only takes 49 days to grow a chicken now, compared to the traditional 70 days), and that cows are fed corn instead of grass (something they are not evolutionarily built to do.) We also follow the story of a mother (turned food advocate) whose son died from eating contaminated food.
The film explains that the advent of big business food manufacturing came from the expansion of the fast food chain: speedier animal growth and assembly lines serve the consumer faster. Pollan connects the dots between obesity and low-income levels. How come it costs only 99 cents for a cheeseburger, but two bucks for a head of broccoli? It’s easy to see where families with fewer dollars will spend their money, and the physical results of those purchases.
One fascinating subject is patented soybean genes, and Monsanto’s cloak-and-dagger behavior to ensure that all farmers use their line. (Monsanto is also the home to DDT and Agent Orange. Yes, those chemicals.) The fear that Monsanto drives into these farmers is apparent with one man who has his face and voice protected to avoid identification. This part of the story is worth a documentary unto itself.
Food, Inc. also brings to the forefront the fact that former leaders of these companies are now running the government agencies built to protect us from them. (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was once a lawyer for Monsanto).
However, the film does not present a complete downward spiral toward food Armageddon. In fact, it paints a positive picture of the progress made toward better conditions for food processing and consumption, citing Walmart as one example. By answering customer demand for organic foods, Walmart has stopped stocking the dairy section with milk from cows with growth hormones, and has started putting organic foods in their stores – more organic foods on the shelves means less room for the processed goods (and the tons of hormones, fertilizers, and chemicals that go with them.)
Documentaries are not the usual big-screen fare, so this might be a rental in your future, depending on your passion for the subject. Food, Inc. is a worthy addition to the growing movement for better standards on food processing and how we consumers can “vote at the cash register” to make a difference. As Schlosser says in the film, “Hey, it worked for Big Tobacco.”
I’m skeptical whether this will truly change how people think and act about their food, but you never know. I guess we’ll find out the next time we write our shopping lists.
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