- Food, Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner
With: Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin.
Sacrificing Health for Efficiency
A bottle of coke costs less than a bottle of water. What’s wrong with this?
For filmmaker Robert Kenner, what started out as a furrowed brow turned into a six-year investigation into the American food industry, resulting in his latest documentary, Food, Inc. Collaborating with authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma), Food, Inc. does more than lift the veil from consciously concealed corporate corruption. It pieces together information about what we eat with how it’s produced and accessibly lays out the politics, values, and transformative power behind the simple act of purchasing food.
The reality uncovered in this documentary is not the one that we experience every day when shopping the aisles of a grocery store, comparing prices, and making choices about what’s for dinner. Behind the seemingly endless variety of brands and products is actually a mechanized factory of food production controlled by a few corporations that value profit over human health, worker’s rights, and environmental preservation.
“All food has become like fast food,” says Kenner. Fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King are no longer the sole culprits for national problems such as obesity and substandard food inspection. Companies like Monsanto, the corn and soybean conglomerate, and Tyson, the world’s largest provider of beef, chicken, and pork products, are equally guilty of making unhealthy food using questionable business practices. Food, Inc. aims to deflate the fresh-from-the-farm image these companies use to market themselves, which helps sell their products but covers up the unsettling processes behind their food production.
Kenner uses an impressive mixture of intimate interviews, moving testimonials, and visually appealing animation to make his points in a complex, but clear manner. His thorough quest for the truth harkens back to the origins of documentary filmmaking and reveals that cinema is still a powerful method of expository journalism. The extent of his research and the lengths he went to capture multiple perspectives is impressive.
In an interview, Kenner explained that part of the reason why Food, Inc. took over six years to complete was because they were denied access to so many places. Producer Elise Pearlstein added that “it would have been easier to penetrate the Pentagon than to get into a company that makes breakfast cereal.” According to Schlosser, “the industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.”
Shocking and heartbreaking, Food, Inc. gives us those nitty-gritty details of how a tomato is grown or how a chicken is raised. It reveals that every step of the process from farm to factory to functional product is not as scrupulously regulated as government organizations like the USDA and the FDA would have you believe. According to Pollan, “the industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency. But each new step in efficiency leads to problems.”
Yet, despite its anti-corporate political skepticism, the film doesn’t preach. It provides well-researched information and empowers by showing that choice is possible and productive.
“The average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put there for them to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite,” says Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, an organic farm business and also the number three yogurt provider in the country. His point is supported through interviews with Wal-Mart’s chief dairy purchaser, Tony Airosa, who, due to consumer demand, recently discontinued the sale of milk products containing growth hormones.
When this symbol of corporate America chooses a more organic product because of the demand for it, you know things are changing, and the future will be brighter.
“You vote three times a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Kenner at a sold-out screening of Food, Inc. in New York City. He then referred audiences to the social action component of the film by giving them the link www.takepart.com. It’s precisely this activist edge to Food, Inc. that makes it less about corporation-bashing and more about personal purchasing power.
Brenna Fitzgerald has a BA in history from Cornell University and an MA in critical studies from the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. She teaches yoga and writes film reviews in NYC.