MOVIE REVIEW- <i>Food </i>for thought: Film shows dark side of the food biz
If you haven't eaten fast food since you saw Super Size Me, you'd better not see Food, Inc., because then you won't eat anything. Talk about a crash diet!
Why is E.coli bad and broc.coli good?
If we are what we eat, why are so many food items used as pejorative terms? Chicken, swine, porker, fish– even fruit and vegetable. The list goes on.
One movie can't answer all your questions, but Food, Inc. tries. It's one of those activist documentaries that attempts to change the world in 90 minutes, one viewer at a time. What it hopes to do is get you to eat organic, locally grown foods, advocate more government enforcement of safety standards, and check their website foodincmovie.com for more actions.
What do you learn from Food, Inc.? There's a new villain in town. Not the military-industrial complex but "the industrial food system," the handful of corporations that control an amazing amount of the food we eat. They've turned food production into "enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused," making things grow bigger faster and, in the case of chickens, with more white meat.
I don't want to mention names, but Tyson, Perdue, Smithfield, and Monsanto declined to be interviewed for the film. Tyson wouldn't let "their" farmers, who the film alleges are controlled by being kept heavily in debt, show the inside of the windowless chicken houses where chicks spend their 48 or so days on earth packed like sardines.
The spokespeople for the first two segments synergistically discuss topics they've written books about. Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) tells how food production has changed in the last 50 years to meet the demand from fast food restaurants. Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) reveals how corn and its derivatives have gotten into many more products than you would imagine, including feed for cattle, even though it's not good for them.
Later, we learn that subsidized corn from the U.S. put 1.5 million Mexican farmers out of work. American companies recruited them to come over illegally to work in their plants. When caught, the workers were punished, not the companies.
This is part of a general complaint that we're subsidizing "bad calories," leading to epidemics of obesity and diabetes. It's dramatized by showing the hard-working Orozcos feeding their children off a fast-food dollar menu because fresh vegetables are too expensive in the supermarket.
Despite frequent outbreaks of E.coli and salmonella, the number of government inspections of food plants has dropped drastically in the last decade. The film connects this to links between leaders of the government's regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA, and their former employers, the food corporations they now oversee.
Far too much time is given to food service activist Barbara Kowalcyk, who's been lobbying for stronger regulation by telling "Kevin's Story," the tragic tale of her young son who got E.coli from a hamburger and died. It drags an intelligent film down to an emotional level that would embarrass Lifetime.
Monsanto is accused of getting a monopoly on soybeans by developing a strain that resisted their weed-killing chemicals, patenting it, and aggressively prosecuting farmers who avoid buying their seed by saving seeds from previous crops.
Filmmaker Robert Kenner makes a lot of good points but also a few that seem dubious. Can the food industry really be broken like the tobacco industry was? Isn't it easier to get people to quit smoking than to quit eating?
Even Kenner, while endorsing organic foods, raises some skepticism around the fact that companies like Stonyfield Farm have been bought up by the big conglomerates and picked up for distribution by Walmart. Will they be able to maintain their standards on such a large scale or will they go from being part of the solution to part of the problem?
Even when it's well done, such high minded proselytizing makes me want to play devil's advocate. I know I should want to become a vegetarian (as some of my best friends are) after seeing how animals bred for food are treated. We see "the largest slaughterhouse in the world" in Tar Heel, North Carolina, where "32,000 hogs a day are slaughtered" and the workers are equally expendable.
But I don't have time to hunt my own food and give the animals a sporting chance, and I'm not sure the animals, which don't know any alternative, would appreciate the difference in their quality of life if they were put up in luxury hotel suites until they were slaughtered.
Besides, plants are living things, too, even if their body parts don't resemble ours so closely; so how much better can we feel about ourselves for eating them? At least I don't eat anything with opposable thumbs.
Kenner doesn't have Michael Moore's sense of humor, but he makes a lot of sense. If Food, Inc. leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it will be for the right reasons.