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 FreshRadar » Blog Archive » Food, Inc. | On the Lookout for Good Stuff
Food, Inc.

Food, Inc.

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.”

  • In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25 percent of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80 percent of the market.
  • In the 1970s, there were thousands of slaughterhouses producing the majority of beef sold. Today, we have only 13.
  • In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, they conducted only 9,164.
  • During the Bush administration, the head of the Food and Drug Administration was the former executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association.
  • Prior to renaming itself an agribusiness company, Monsanto was a chemical company that produced, among other things, DDT and Agent Orange.
  • In 1996 when it introduced genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans, Monsanto controlled only 2 percent of the U.S. soybean market. Now, over 90 percent of soybeans in the United States contain Monsanto’s patented gene.
  • The average chicken farmer invests over $500,000 in setting up large-scale facilities and makes only $18,000 a year.
  • The modern supermarket now has, on average, 47,000 products, the majority of which are being produced by only a handful of food corporations.
  • Seventy percent of processed foods have some genetically modified ingredient.
  • Thirty percent of the land in the United States now is used for planting corn.
  • E. coli and salmonella outbreaks have become more frequent, whether it be from spinach or jalapeno peppers. In 2007, there were 73,000 people sickened from the E. coli virus.
  • Organics is the fastest-growing food segment now, increasing 20 percent annually.

1 Comment »

  1. avatar comment-top

    I am looking forward to seeing this - although I am afraid I might go on a hunger strike afterwards. Got it on the Netflix queue.

    Good review.


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