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Food, Inc. (PG)

1 April 2009

Every so often, a documentary film comes along that’s moving, affecting and bold enough to inspire a greater awareness of a social issue, concern or problem. One such film is 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, which perhaps did more than anything to educate people around the world about the issue of global warming. Since then, buzzwords like “green,” “sustainability,” “carbon footprint” and others have entered popular consciousness in a way not thought possible before. Now I’m not saying that it’s inspired massive change, at least not yet. Much remains to be done and much doubt remains as to how much can be changed regarding this issue.

I don’t wanna write about An Inconvenient Truth or global warming today, though, but rather about Food, Inc. It’s so powerful that it could be to the local/organic/sustainable food movement what An Inconvenient Truth was to a renewed sense of environmentalism and a newfound concern about global warming.

Featuring interviews with everyone from an inspired organic farmer in rural Virginia and well-known advocates like MICHAEL POLLAN and ERIC SCHLOSSER on one hand to a representative of an organization that applies ammonia to kill e-coli bacteria derived from the industrial production of meat products (I wish I was making that up, but sadly I’m not). They manage to get many other folks to talk as well, including a representative from the Corn Growers Association of America and a farmer who was sued by Monsanto. Interestingly enough, but not surprisingly, representatives from large agri-business firms like Monsanto, Tyson, Smithfield and others refused to be interviewed for the film. Overall, while the film obviously has a strong point of view, it lets everyone talk and doesn’t just present one side of the story.

Amazingly enough, they also manage to obtain access to footage of CAFOs (Contained Animal Feeding Operations), slaughterhouses and meat-production plants. This isn’t a vegetarian or a vegan screed nor a plea to join PETA, but rather an honest and frightful look at not just how animals are abused in our current food system, but also how we end up eating all of the antibiotics, feces and other unsanitary ingredients.

It doesn’t just focus on meat production, though. The dependence on the overgrowing of corn and its prominence in our food supply (especially in the guise of high fructose corn syrup) is also focused on to great length.

If there’s anything negative to say about the film, it’s that with the exception of the enthusiastic and inspiring farmer in Virginia and a profile of Stonyfield Farms (a maker of organic dairy products and the #3 yogurt maker in the country), they don’t present alternatives to the “conventional” food system until the credits, where they encourage folks who can to (amongst other things) shop at farmers’ markets, look at ingredients and buy from companies who treat their workers, their animals and the earth with respect. Perhaps a sequel should be made which highlights the rise of organic food, farmers’ markets and what not in the last decade or so.

Before I saw the film, I thought that it was gonna consist of things I already knew and while to a certain extent that’s true, it was still very moving to see it all encapsulated on screen.