Do you see the tagline on the poster for Food, Inc.? It reads, "You'll never look at dinner the same way." An even more truthful statement would've been, "You'll never look at dinner… or lunch… or breakfast the same way, because you'll never want to eat again once you see this movie."
OK, OK, so you'll eventually have no choice but to cave and have a meal at some point after watching this documentary about the business and science behind the processing of meat, grains and vegetables that we buy from grocery stores and restaurants every day. But you'll undoubtedly be much warier about what you choose to put into your body for the foreseeable future. At that, of course, is the point of the film, which took Emmy Award-winning director Robert Kenner (Two Days in October) three years to pull together as he traveled from the farms of the Midwest to the halls of Congress in an attempt to shine a light on the food industry's biggest players (such as Monsanto, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods)… and their disturbing politics and practices.
The film's ninety-four minute running time is broken up into several short segments that are introduced with ironically upbeat music, cartoonish graphics… and devastatingly frightening statistics. Illustrations comparing how chickens looked sixty years ago to how they look now thanks to steroids and genetic engineering are jaw-dropping. Learning that one in three children born after the year 2000 will develop early-onset diabetes makes me fear for the state of our nation's healthcare system even more than I already had been. Hearing the stories of farmers who have been sued by Monsanto for
ridiculous reasons — and have gone tens of thousands of dollars into
debt as a result — made me angrier than I've been in a long time. But the connections revealed between the major food processing companies and the government organizations (like the FDA) that are supposed to be keeping those very same firms in check were by far the scariest part of the documentary. Who's watching the watchmen, indeed.
Interviews are sprinkled throughout and keep the information coming at a nice clip; professor and author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) is heavily featured — some might even consider him a narrator of sorts. Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser makes an appearance, as does the CEO of Stonyfield Farm, Gary Hirschberg.
If you are wary about seeing Food, Inc. because you fear (like I did) that it might take the PETA route of featuring vomit-inducing footage of cows, pigs and chickens being
cruelly and barbarically slaughtered in an attempt to make its point,
fear not. The film is rated PG, so there's nothing exceedingly
disturbing shown on screen. However, as Kenner does attempt to follow
the food we eat from its creation all the way to the supermarket, there
was no way around a few sad scenes of overcrowded pens and coops, cows standing knee-deep in manure and being pushed around when they are clearly ill, as
well as shots of animals both alive and dead in various phases of
Not nearly as entertaining as Super Size Me (because it really can't be), Food, Inc. is still effective in making its audience realize that there are solutions to many of the problems touched upon in the film, and that we as consumers can make a difference by "voting… three times a day" through our food purchasing decisions.
On that note, last month Stonyfield Farm helped to promote the film by including information about it on over ten million cups of its organic yogurt. Other organic companies such as Annie's Homegrown and Newman's Own are spreading the word as well, since they obviously have something to gain if more people decide that they don't want to keep ingesting chemicals at mealtime. But perhaps the most surprising promotional partner for Food, Inc. has been Chipotle Mexican Grill. While Chipotle doesn't serve the most healthy fast-food in the world when it comes to total calorie count or sodium levels, they are committed to using organic produce and naturally raised chicken and pork in their products, and actually source much of their meat from Polyface Farm, one of the few sustainable organic farms spotlighted in the film. Chipotle is going so far as to host free screenings of Food, Inc. across thirty-two cities… and many of them are tonight, so check this list to see if there's one near you or to get more details.
I don't see how I can do anything but recommend this movie to anyone who eats. It raises serious issues that we should all be informed about, and if you want to learn even more, you can go to the film's web site and/or buy the participation guide — and you should probably check out Monsanto's "rebuttal web site" dedicated to the film in order to get their side of the story, as well.
Food, Inc. presents extremely complicated issues that can't possibly be thoroughly investigated in the span of its running time… and there are of course other things to consider (like how hard it would be to feed the world's population without the genetic engineering of crops) that the film never even touches open. So I'll leave you with its trailer, which will give you a good sense for what the other ninety-or-so minutes are like. If this documentary is playing near you, then don't you at least owe it to yourself and your family to see what it has to say, if nothing else? Chew on that!