By now, most of you with an interest in this topic will have read Fast Food Nation or seen its odd film adaptation, or enjoyed the gastronomic minefield of Supersize Me. Food, Inc. is less about the horrible contents of processed food and more about the unseen machinations in boardrooms and government buildings, as well as their unseen costs. Don’t worry, we are still privy to the horrors that the sources of our meat go through, but here it is more to illustrate the why. Efficiency fattens stockholder’s portfolios, and certainly leads to fattening our lower and middle classes as well. Behind the veil of the pastoral fantasy (that corporations sell us with their monopolistic food processing) lurks people with no intent to compromise in favor of ethics, health, the environment, animals, or even product heterogeneity. The bottom line is profits, and it’s killing all of us; not just Americans, but all of us.
Not only are the thousands of cows or chickens or pigs crammed into feed lots merely numbers to these invisible puppet masters, but so are we. Not unlike the tobacco industry, the food processing conglomerates are only interested in moving product, so they punch our evolutionarily-installed pleasure centers, squelch their smaller competitors or make them cost-prohibitive, frame our tastes and expectations, and then blame the consumer for not making responsible choices. I can tell you from my own experience that if I want to buy a loaf of bread from the grocery store that doesn’t have enriched wheat or high fructose corn syrup, I am going to have to read the labels of just about every loaf (and still may come up emptyhanded), or learn how to bake at home.
This film was made in 2008, shortly before America got punched in the gut with the object lesson “unchecked greed is bad.” Many of us knew greed and growth were unsustainable and unrealistic but now everyone is finally waking up to it. Food, Inc. reminds us that it’s not just bankers and traders and real estate investors that can crush humanity. This documentary gets great footage of feed lots and processing plants using both overt and hidden cameras. The interviews are well spoken, and despite the tone of my review, not at all preachy. The infographics are funny and sad and useful. Food, Inc. clips along with lots of information, but it’s well organized and flows into you like so much toxic runoff. But in a good way.
We learn that it’s actually more efficient, on a small scale, to raise a cow on grass — no growing, buying, trucking, storing feed corn, fields get fertilized by their grazers, e. Coli is prevented, antibiotics are unnecessary, mowing is naturally taken care of. But efficient is defined in the eye of the CEO. Fewer feed lots equals less variance in product, less deviation from dictum, fewer communities that hate you. Corn-fed beef breeds e. Coli; grass feeding an infected herd clears out the deadly bacteria. So what, a few people die, look at our sales numbers!
Integrity, compassion, humanity, quality, purity of food source is lost in the mass corporatization of food production. When low-income people can’t afford fresh meat or vegetables, they eat the processed crap, get diabetes and cardiovascular conditions, can’t afford health insurance, drain the system. Then they are blamed for the high medical costs. Deregulations removes protections, subsidization removes competition, and all this food machine creates is obesity, toxic waste, worker exploitation, excessive litigation, food-borne illnesses, and increasing costs across the board. SARS and the avian flu began in crushing animal storage areas as well. The giant companies are well protected behind walls of cash, and, until recently, the powerful influence of their former employees-turned-government-staffers. Food, Inc. decries the actions of the conglomerates, but every big business (except, interestingly, Wal-Mart) declined to respond to filmmaker Robert Kenner. Kenner shows us the man behind the curtain and wants us to know we’re not powerless.
As I encourage my readers to vote with your wallets at the box office, so does Kenner exhort you to vote at the grocery check out. His film shows us ugly, faceless corporate greed and its truly fatal consequences, but gives us tools to dismantle or at least throttle back the machine — and hopefully solve some of the world’s ills as well. This film is important to see and comes at just the right time to ride the wave of anger at the powerful despoiling the planet, the economy, and even our bodies to make a buck. We won’t be able to reverse the culture of consumerism, nor will we fully eliminate profit-centric public policy, but we can change how much we let ourselves be patsies for their enrichment. As Edmund Burke said, “No one could make a mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
I think everyone should see this documentary and vote accordingly at the box office. But if your Full Price Feature dollar can be spent buying something from outside the Big Four food processor cartel, I think the filmmakers would prefer you take action that way, and talk up the movie to more people. Check it out.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 6/12/09 limited
Time in minutes 94
Director Robert Kenner