"Food, Inc." does more than serve as an exposé on the United States food industry--it connects the dots between the nefarious, contemptuous business practices of multinational corporations and their best friends, the compromised government regulatory agencies such as the USDA, FDA, and EPA, who have in the past been led by folks well connected within the very industries they are supposed to regulate.
But let's hold on a minute. Filmmaker Robert Kenner's documentary could have been just a dour, paranoid investigative piece and still told the truth. Instead, Mr. Kenner has made a colorful, fast-paced, and well-documented account of the state of the food supply in our country; the unintended consequences of the efficiencies, short-cuts, and technological methods inherent in factory farming; the insidious insider relationship between the meat industry and the agencies that should be regulating it; and the health effects, including diabetes, of consuming processed foods and fast foods.
Naturally, the culprits behind the curtain (e.g., Smithfield, Monsanto, Perdue) would not appear on camera, not because they are cowards but precisely because they are so powerfully connected, and have legions of lawyers and enforcers (yes, like any bully, these outfits do use intimidation), and are moving to control free speech and criticism of their practices.
The counterbalance to the doom and gloom comes from interview with small farmers; with entrepreneurs in the organic food business; with the brave folks who have tried to make a stand against the food industry; and with those experts who are striving to be modern day Paul Reveres in the face of mass indifference.
Kenner uses photography and imagery to make his points, and he interlaces this film with scenes of amazing beauty and graphic cruelty. "Food, Inc." is not an easy film to watch, and it should not be. Kenner uses the final frames to deliver some to-do's for those who want to respond to the film not just in conversation but through action. As trite as it sounds, if you can only see one movie this year, go to this one. (When the negative review start cropping up for this movie, it would be interesting to see how many of those are from food industry insiders and their minions.)
How many times do we have to see horror stories about how our food, the food we eat, the food that goes into our bodies is handled, before we stand up and do something about it? Apparently, many because we still haven't done anything.
"Food, Inc.", directed by Robert Kenner, and co-produced by Eric Schlosser (writer of "Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan (writer of "The Omnivore's Dilemma), takes an in depth view at a handful of various problems with the food industry in our country. Presented in "Chapters", Schlosser or Pollan introduce the various segments leading into a series of graphics, interviews, archival and hidden camera footage and more all of which illustrates the problems we are facing.
Did you know that Chickens have been engineered to grow faster and larger, in order to produce more breast meat? The companies who provide us with chicken realized a while back that we prefer white meat. When a customer prefers something, it is more efficient to grow what the customer wants. White meat is also more expensive, so it is a win-win situation for these companies to fulfill our needs and wants. But what about the dark meat? The result? Engineered chickens ready for slaughter faster and yielding more white meat. But it also results in chickens with no flavor that are grown in very inhumane conditions. Most never see sunlight and can't walk for very long because their internal organs can't keep up with the growth of their bodies.
For many years, corn farmers have lobbied lawmakers for protection and subsidies, and this has created an overwhelming abundance of corn. Because there is so much of the grain, scientists have worked out many ways to use the abundant staple, to prevent wasting it, and to maximize profits. One of these, high fructose corn syrup, is now in a majority of the items we consume. But they also decided to start feeding the corn to cattle animals that are supposed to eat grass. There is a by-product of this new practice; e-coli bacteria. When the cattle eat this feed, they have a higher chance of creating the bacteria. And the fact they are contained in small lots, with barely enough room to move around, standing knee deep in their own feces for hours every day, doesn't help the situation.
Why do we raise the majority of the cattle in this country in such a fashion? Because the fast food industry (McDonalds purchases the most ground beef in the world) wants cheap beef. If they can feed the cattle more cheaply, those savings are passed on to the large chains and are then passed on to the consumer through "Dollar" and "Value" menus.
These are just two of the stories the film follows in detail. Providing a lot of information, the filmmakers connect the dots to illustrate why our food production system is in need of some drastic changes.
If we don't change it, we are going to continue to get sick, some of us will continue to die. And it is all preventable.
Why do we allow it to continue? A handful of very large companies control all of the production of our processed foods. They lobby Congress and the Senate, getting the lawmakers to protect them. They don't have to do anything about it. When there is an outbreak, they make some minor changes, but as we saw from the E-Coli outbreak in hamburger, it happened a few times and will no doubt happen again.
People are getting the message. Organic foods, farmer's markets and grocery chains like Whole Foods are becoming more and more prevalent popping up to meet the needs of a growing, more selective clientele.
Are you getting the message?
Or do you still want that hamburger that only costs $1?
on May 2, 2009
Robert Kenner's movie is a perfect illustration of F. William Engdahl's book `Seeds of Destruction', which explains how international agribusinesses are trying to monopolize vertically and horizontally (and profit from) food production on a world scale.
The world's food chain is built mainly on heavily subsidized and, therefore, cheap corn. In fact, all humans chew corn the whole day long from bread over meat (all animals are fed with corn) to deserts and drinks. Transnational corporations are even trying to learn fish to eat corn. Corn becomes nearly a food monoculture.
A particular transnational company even developed through genetic engineering highly efficient corn seed which it patented, thereby creating a nearly seed monopoly. Buyers cannot use the produce of the seeds as plant seed for future harvests. The company's own inspection force controls with hawk eyes that its clients buy new genetically modified seed every year. Some of the company's supporters and former directors occupy key positions in US governments and government administrations (FDA).
The movie shows the disastrous effects of intensive farming on animals, as well as the health and environmental risks of diminished standards at livestock farming and slaughtering houses.
Fortunately, some biological farmers show more respect for their animals and for their clients.
At the end of the movie, the makers give a perfect list of recommendations for those wishing to eat `healthy' food.
This movie is a must see for all those who want to understand the world we live in.
on April 25, 2009
What can be more important than the food you eat? This is the movie that the American public needs to see. This movie deals with issues that each and every one of us faces every day--without even knowing it. Covering all sorts of food-related issues, from animal cruelty to the agricultural triumph of corn, this movie will leave you more informed than you were before, and will empower you to make a difference, at least in your own buying habits.
Take the time to watch. We're all slaves to the food system--at least educate yourself to how it works.
I saw Food, Inc. several days ago and many of the images still haunt me. The essence of this movie is how food production in America has gone from being locally produced to being controlled by multi-national corporations. The upside of this is that food is cheaper and more plentiful. This movie examines the downside, which is horrifying.
All livestock (including fish) are now fed some sort of corn meal, regardless of whether this is what the would eat under ordinary circumstances. For example, cows eat grass. If they eat something else, it causes extra bacteria, including e-coli to grow in its stomach. To treat this they are given antibiotics. Milking cows are fed hormones to speed up milk production. Chickens are fed so much corn to fat them up many cannot walk and they break their legs trying. Or the legs get infected and they are given antibiotics. One chicken farmer showed a "typical" day in the coop where she would go in and scoop up a dozen dead birds and through them on a gargabe heap. Lest it sound one sided, the large corporations were invited to participate in the movie and declined.
While parts of this movie are difficult to watch, ultimately it ends on a high note that we, as the consumer, have the power to change food production processes. As one farmer pointed out, you wouldn't buy the cheapest car or the cheapest clothes, so why apply the same philosophy to the purchase and consumption of food.
Simply put, this movie will change your life.
on November 9, 2009
Food, Inc is an activist documentary, which aims to educate consumers about the food system. This is much of the same information found in the author's books: Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma). But it puts together many interesting points, especially from economist's point of view.
For one, most people don't think about how food is produced. We clearly see the benefits of mass production, such as lower prices and standardization, but not so much the downsides, such as poor conditions (for animals and workers), low diversity (system lacks resilience to external events, food is nutritionally limited) and health impact (unhealthy foods, obesity/diabetes, drug resistance, bacterial outbreaks).
The second angle is the role of government. The documentary provides key insights, but doesn't seem to follow them through. On one hand, it states that "we put faith in our government to protect us", but on the other it admits that it failed us in many ways (regulatory agencies are controlled/lobbied by the industries it means to regulate, revolving door between industry and agencies, the FDA often cannot close unsanitary factories, FDA hampers small local growers).
There are three government interventions which caught my attention. They are clearly called out, but somehow are not discussed in the context of reforms.
1. subsidies to corn industry (pays to overproduce, distorts prices of meat, skews towards unhealthy food, makes it hard to compete locally and internationally)
2. patent laws (give Monsanto leverage against farmers saving seeds)
3. libel laws for food industry (mutes much of the criticism against them)
Finally, the documentary emphasizes consumer sovereignty. Aside from the artifacts of government intervention, the system is very sensitive to consumer demand. It shows the example of Wal-Mart which is shifting to some organic produces to satisfy customers, and marketing products without growth hormones.
The conclusion highlights consumer choice as a driver for the system, which I think makes sense. It also recommends asking Congress for additional regulation, which I think is a mistake (giving Congress more reach will give the industries more incentives to control the political process, leading to more negative effects as seen above).
But overall, this is a worthwhile documentary, especially if you have not read the recent popular books on the topic.
Posted my review at [...]
on July 15, 2009
As a vegetarian, I don't eat meat, and I knew about antibiotics in chicken feed, corn-fed cattle, and more. But, I didn't realize the influence that fast-food and chemical companies had on U.S. agricultural practices. I am now buying more local and organic produce, due to this film. Robert Kenner's film is not anti-carnivore, but it does make a good case for seeking out the beef from grass-fed cattle, and eating wild salmon and free-range chicken.
The chicken coops in modern America are usually dark, crowded, and unhealthy places, with animals that can barely walk, since they have been bred to have breasts double the normal size. Seeds are genetically modified and patented, and then giant corporations prevent growers from using their own harvested seed. Corn is subsidized by the government and is then used to fatten cattle, but also fattens people--and also winds up in batteries and gasoline. E. coli is now a huge problem, due to current practices. There are fewer meat inspectors today than there were fifty years ago. Many appointees to the FDA are from the industries that should be regulated. Politicians of both political parties appoint them.
Go see Kenner's film. It may change your life.
Among the maxims carved on the entrances to the Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi, perhaps the most familiar and important were "know thyself" and "nothing in excess." We have reached a point, two and a half millenia later, where we could really use both pieces of advice. This film offers valuable wisdom to a culture in which the self is defined by the products we buy in far too much excess.
If we are what we eat, then most of us (this author included) have hardly any idea who or what we are. We live in a culture of abstraction: we don't see what goes into the products we buy, and are unaware of the true costs of the food that sustains our lives. Director Robert Kenner has created a film that puts various pieces of the puzzle together, and helps make clear what it is we're buying, and what it is we're buying into, when we demand cheap eats, and reveals the truth behind the illusion that most of our food comes from quaint farms.
As the film shows, by means of interviews, animations, effective video and surveillance tapes, there are hardly any family farms anymore, and most of our meat comes from massive factory farms in which animals are packed in tightly, wading through their own manure, rife with disease that is only partly kept in check by pumping chickens or pigs or cattle full of antibiotics. That meat, of course, ends up in our food supply and in the fast food hamburgers, and there's hardly any effective oversight for consumer safety because, as it turns out, most of the regulators for the past couple of decades have been drawn directly from prominent positions in the industries they are supposed to regulate. Then, there's the matter that all of these animals are mostly fed on corn, and most everything else we eat is made from corn or soy or corn and soy byproducts (such as high fructose corn syrup), primarily because corn is heavily subsidized in the United States, so that it can be sold below the cost of production. The majority of the soy, it turns out, is bioengineered and patented by the same chemical company that produced those innovations we know as DDT and Agent Orange - and that same company (Monsanto) has made it virtually impossible for farmers to grow anything else but the seed that they must buy from Monsanto. Not only that, but Monsanto's patents have made it illegal even for farmers to save their own seed from season to season, and Monsanto enforces its hegemony by means of intimidating lawsuits that most farmers just can't afford to fight. It's a depressing story, made somewhat lighter by the inclusion in the film of a few somewhat successful crusaders fighting to bring healthy and sustainable farming and growing practices to the mainstream and to fight against the powers that profit a great deal from cheap and unhealthy foods.
The film offers only a bit in the way of positive suggestions for real change, and that may be its main weakness. Of course, the advice it does offer is probably the only advice you can offer: first, vote for good foods with your wallet by buying organic and local, and by encouraging distributors like Walmart to expand their healthy offerings; and secondly, organize and wield political power to support candidates who encourage green practices and to encourage elected officials to favor better regulation. I think it would have been more effective to highlight these messages clearly one at a time throughout the film, at strategic points, rather than mostly in a few written suggestions at the very end of the film and just before the credits.
Still, this is an important film that conveys a number of important and harrowing truths about the food industry more clearly and effectively than I've seen it elsewhere. Of course there is Eric Schosser's Fast Food Nation, and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, but both of them are featured here and this is a quick and effective way to convey the most important messages, that could be explored further. Highly recommended.
on July 6, 2009
Robert Kenner's documentary food film demonstrates once again the public's hunger for a food ethic. As in previous films like Supersize Me and King Corn, the recipe for success is tried and, unfortunately, all too true. A few multi-national conglomerates, with the complicity of our federal regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA, control a disproportionate amount of our food supply from farm to fork, to the detriment of public health, local farmers, international economies, exploited workers, the environment, and respect for animals. The sole corporate concern is a fat profit. If you are a farmer, you ought to think twice about challenging Monsanto. If you have children, consider that because of their "normal" diet, they have a 1 in 3 change of developing diabetes (1 in 2 if you are a minority). Much of this film is narrated by the understated Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation). Although the film includes some very brave and creative alternatives, it's been a long time since I left a movie theater feeling so angry and (the real tragedy) so helpless to do much about the problem. Manohla Dargis of the NYTs described Food, Inc. as "one of the scariest films of the year."
The tenets of mass production have been praised and vilified for their effects on costs. One camp lauds mass production for its ability to reduce costs and to place goods within the reach of the ordinary consumer. Another camp criticizes mass production for its ability to hide costs rather than actually reduce them. Of these two camps, Food, Inc. clearly falls in the latter one. From a mutated chicken, to unsavory labor practices, to government policies run amok, Food, Inc. has one mission: to lift the curtain on what is behind our hidden policy of cheap food.
Leaning on commentary from Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals), Food, Inc. largely reiterates what these authors have already put into print. At least for this reviewer, who read Pollan's book with gusto, there was nothing new here, and this was disappointing. True, Food, Inc. challenges our labor and agricultural practices with sometimes brutal images, but all in all, it limits itself to retracing Pollan's steps. In doing so, Food, Inc. merely provides a visual introduction to the characters and scenes Pollan already has described in vivid detail.
In some ways, this approach adds a visual layer of depth to Pollan's account of mass produced food in 21st Century America. In the end, though, the message is still the same: our policy of cheap food has consequences for society and the individual. For those who are unaware of what these consequences are, Food, Inc. provides a thorough introduction and challenges you to do something about it. For those who are familiar with Pollan's book, Food, Inc. is largely reiterative, but appreciably so.