Review: Food, Inc.

food inc onesheet

Do you pay attention to the food you eat and are you aware of the path it takes from the field or animal to your plate?  If you don’t, you might be surprised at the consequences of large scale factory farming and how it’s changed what we eat and adversely impacted the quality and purity of our meals.

Food, Inc. is a very political documentary with an axe to grind, a clear and overt bias against large scale corporate agribusiness. The facts speak for themselves and I already buy organic and local foods whenever possible, but unfortunately director Robert Kenner wasn’t satisfied with letting the facts speak for themselves and what he’s crafted is a piece of agitprop, a movie that takes itself very, very seriously and requires that you either do the same or constantly be asking “Ok, so what’s the alternative?” as it proceeds for 94 minutes.

The film is based primarily on Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, with additional material from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Both are essentially investigations into modern farming in the vein of Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, about the Chicago slaughterhouses of the early 1900s. Problem is, I’ve already read Fast Food Nation and was already familiar with the majority of the material in Food, Inc., so it served as rather a boring and depressing polemic.

If you’re not aware of the extreme challenge of farming and raising livestock for an ever-growing population even as arable farm land diminishes, you really should watch this film and get a quick education. Where it’s weakest, however, is where so many of these agitprop films break down: in offering up thoughtful, viable alternatives to the challenges faced by massive scale food production.

Read on for some salient facts on corporate farming and its consequences that I jotted down as I watched Food, Inc.

• Corn is so incredibly popular that 30% of our land bases are being planted with corn. A hundred years ago an acre produced 20 bushels of corn. Today that same acre can produce 200. Corn products are found in a staggering 80% of supermarket products.

• The average American is eating 200 pounds of meat per person per year and that’s only possible because we’re feeding the animals a cheap diet of grain (e.g. corn) through the widescale adoption of CAFOs: concentrated animal feeding operations. Even farmed fish are being taught to eat corn because it’s such a cheap food source.

• The problem I face as I watch this film is its (typical) lack of balance. When they show cattle “standing ankle deep in their own manure”, for example, is that typical of 60% of livestock, or a ghastly worst case? Are ‘free range’ cattle treated differently? Are organic foods grown differently? Are “family farms” different?

• Tainted meat with E. Coli is transmitted because of cow manure that’s not properly cleaned up during the slaughter process and because of run-off from factory pastures tainting water supplies (e.g., spinach with E. Coli)

• Case of a boy who died from complications related to E. Coli poisoning: but statistical chance of another child having that happen?Situation about the fact that junk food is cheap because it’s designed and produced to be cheap, but is it a false bargain?

• a rather shocking scene of chickens stuffed into funnels so that their heads are sticking out then having their throats sliced so they bleed cleanly. But to some extent, once we left the world of producing our own food and slaughtering our own livestock, we inevitably got into this place.

• Shows “hidden camera” view of slaughterhouse. It’s really yechy, as you would expect. Showed where 32,000 hogs are slaughtered/day but is this just agitprop for its shock value? Of course it is.

• In a scene that felt particularly manipulative, Food, Inc. showed immigration workers taking “innocent” Hispanic workers from their trailer home, with the voiceover “they’ve been working to prepare your holiday ham and bacon for fifteen to twenty years…”

• Founder of Stonyfield Farms, Gary Hirshberg, offers the one voice of reason when he says “When Walmart enters the organics business, I’m thrilled. I’ve dreamed of when i could sit down and talk with Walmart about sustainability. Walmart is terribly sensitive about their reputation… No one can debate the fact that the sale of another million dollars to Walmart helps to save the world.”

• Monsanto owns genetically modified soy bean crops and won’t let farmers keep seeds (called “seed saving”) from one season to plant the next. In 1996 2% of beans had their patented gene (that resists the application of Round-Up), now it’s over 90%.

• If you don’t plant GMO soy but your fields are contaminated by GMO soy from neighboring fields, you’re guilty until proven innocent: Monsanto requires that you PROVE you haven’t infringed on its patents.

• “To eat well in this country costs more than to eat badly. That’s why we need changes at the policy level, so that the carrots are a better deal than the soda.” The model that they seem to be promoting is the tobacco industry and that change needs to be done via legislation.

The film ends with some sentences on a black screen:

  • You can vote to change this system. Three times a day.
  • Buy foods that are grown locally, shop at farmer’s markets and plant a garden.
  • Everyone has a right to healthy food. Make sure your farmer’s market takes food stamps. Ask for healthy school lunches. Tell congress to enforce FDA safety standards.
  • You can change the world with every bite.

Hungry for change after all that information? I hope so. Your next step should be to go to http://www.takepart.com/foodinc to learn more about how you can get involved.

4 comments on “Review: Food, Inc.

  1. I had to watch this for a sociology class and i had very similar questions as you. that most of the film is for shock value is true. i hate these lame documentaries with an obvious political bias. i had to watch 5 of them already for my sociology class and everytime i watch my classmates eat it up. i go crazy from it.

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