From the first flash of color across the big screen, Robert Kenner’s “Food, Inc.” had my full attention. It’s a beautifully-produced documentary named after Kenner’s book that preceded it, detailing in 94 short minutes the rise of corporate control over the American food industry and its staggering effect on how (and what) we eat.
At the outset of the film, narrator Eric Schlosser captivated me with this phrase: “The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the previous 10,000.” That name - Schlosser - may sound familiar to you. He’s the investigative journalist who wrote Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the American Meal in 2001, which was also turned into a film in 2006. Schlosser and hugely popular writer Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) pastorally guide viewers through the troublesome information presented in “Food, Inc.” alongside a litany of farmers, activists, and ‘victims of the system.’
“Food, Inc.” is, at times, more reminiscent of a freak show at an old-timey traveling fair than a modern film depicting modern times. However, the goal is to inform, and the information is truly shocking. According to “Food, Inc.,” McDonalds restaurant revolutionized the way that food is produced, cooked, and consumed by introducing a mini-factory approach to hamburger production in their kitchens. This approach, christened in the 1960’s, displaced our food industry’s traditional emphasis on the quality of both the worker and the food products. Mom-and-pop restaurants across our nation were systematically shut out. In the meantime, we - you and me, that is - gulped down delicious, fast-made burgers with artificial taste appeal and quality that was (is?) ever working its way down the slippery slope necessitated by the unaccountable crusade of fast food. “This is a deliberate veil drawn between what we eat and how it’s produced,” Schlosser narrates. “If you follow the trail back you will find not farmers and ranchers but enormous assembly lines where both the animals and the workers are abused.”
This subject - the evils of the food industry - may be a relatively new one to you. Writer/Director Kenner offers a reason for our un-knowing, which is one of the most prevalent themes in “Food, Inc.” According to Kenner, the ignorance of the customer is the greatest weapon of the industry, because it keeps us happy and buying and keeps them out of trouble. Despite what the commercials suggest, the food industry is not our friend…and we’re not just talking about fast food.
Inhumane treatment of the animals that we eventually consume is a major issue addressed by “Food, Inc.” According to the movie’s website, 10 billion animals are raised annually for consumption in the US, nearly all from ‘factory farms’ where animals are treated terribly prior to slaughter. Gruesome scenes portraying crowded cattle standing knee-deep in feces are hard to forget, driving home what might otherwise seem like the exaggeration of a few film-producing radicals.
In addition to the food industry’s harsh treatment of animals and workers both, “Food, Inc.” is eager to inform you of many other issues including: the degree to which we are consuming genetically-modified crops, the safety of which has not been proven long-term; the long-standing tradition of the US having numerous high-level politicians whose past or present records reflect ties and loyalty to the food industry; the shocking amount of corn that is substituted into our foods; and the monopolization of food industry segments by a few key players who treat their suppliers in the same manner that earned Wal-Mart such a sour reputation in recent years.
“While making the film,” director Kenner said, “I met a cattle rancher who told me ‘You know, we used to be scared of the Soviet Union or we used to think we were so much better than them because we had many places to buy things, and choices. We thought if we were ever taken over, we’d be dominated, we’d have to buy from one company, and that’s not the American way. You look around now, and there’s one or two companies dominating everything. We’ve become what we were always terrified of. It seems so un-American that we would be dominated and intimidated by these companies.’”
I highly recommend “Food, Inc.” It’s challenging and disgusting and convicting and compelling. The film is now out on DVD, so now’s your chance to see it. I’ll leave you with a list of bullet points put together by Rich Heffern with NCR which I found to be a fantastic summation of issues tackled by the film.
Facts From “Food, Inc.”