Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Movie Review: Food, Inc.

Food Inc. ***
Directed By:
Robert Kenner.

How much do we know about what is in our food? According to the documentary Food, Inc. not very much at all. Farming has been taken out of the hands of the farmers, and been turned over to huge multinational corporations, who are not really concerned with healthy food, but producing bigger products, in less time for less money. When you cut corners, bad things are bound to happen.

Take cows for instance. Through millions of years of evolution the cow has been conditioned to eat grass. They are made to roam fields and eat that grass, and grow bigger over time, and then of course, get slaughtered so we can eat them. But few cows today are allowed to do that. That is not maximizing space, or cutting costs. Why raise 30 cows in a field, when in the same area you can raise several hundred, who will grow bigger in less time if you cram them all into a pen so they can barely move, and feed them feed made out of corn and god knows what else. Sure, the animals that eat grass are healthier, meaning they are better for us when we consume them, but they certainly don’t help the profit margins.

And why do chickens need to be allowed to room free range, when you can put thousands of them into huge darkened barns, feed them high energy feed – made out of corn again – and fatten them up in half the time. It doesn’t matter if the chickens grow so fat, so quickly that they can no longer walk anymore. The more chickens you can raise, the more money you can make. It really is as simple as that.

Or how about Monsanto, who genetically altered the soybean to make it grow easier, and then patented the seed. Now farmers are not allowed to save their seeds for planting the next year, because if they do, they’ll be sued for patent infringement. And if you’re a farmer who doesn’t use Monsanto soybeans, and there are not many anymore, but some of your seeds get mixed with your neighbors – which happens all the time do to wind – again they’ll sue you for patent infringement. They’ll sue even if they don’t have much of a case. Why? Because they have enough money to pay the legal fees, and they’re betting you don’t.

Food, Inc. is not the best made documentary in the world. It is essentially a point and shoot documentary, interspersed with some talking heads, and some very low budget computer graphics. But then, the movie does not have to be visually stunning, because the content in the movie is interesting enough. If you’ve done any reading on this subject, you probably know a lot of the information in the movie. Two of the major interview subjects are Eric Schlosser, who wrote the book Fast Food Nation, and Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the movie builds upon their work and succeeds in what it wants to do – which is scare the crap out of you about what you’re eating.

And yet, the movie also offers a little hope. Surprisingly, one of the companies in the movie that is portrayed in a positive light (at least compared to the other companies in the movie) is Wal Mart, who signed up with organic farmers Stonyfield Farms, not because they suddenly saw the light, but because their customers demanded it. Because Wal Mart refused to buy milk with a certain growth hormone in it, that hormone is not used anymore. Much the same way this whole process started – which was because McDonalds was the biggest purchaser of meat in America, and they wanted uniform beef for all of their restaurants – it will take more actions like this to reverse it.

So while I wouldn’t say that Food, Inc. is a great movie, it is something just as rare. An important movie. If you have no idea where your food is coming from, then you should see this movie. You will be disgusted by it, and that’s exactly the right reaction.

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