Movie Review: Food, Inc.
By Melissa Paschall
Mealtime has always been a time for conversation, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a buzz these days about what we eat. Robert Kenner’s must-see documentary Food, Inc. takes a broad look at issues of health, ecology and animal welfare within our industrial food system, and highlights alternative models that promise to be more socially and environmentally sustainable. And it does all that while being entertaining – using both comedy and horror to make many memorable points.
The mood is lighthearted when viewers meet Joel Salatin, a passionate advocate of sustainable farming who owns Polyface Farms in Virginia. He feeds his livestock grass with a movable fencing system, and provides an earful of philosophizing on the state of U.S. agriculture today. The mood darkens considerably with scenes of crowded poultry unable to walk, kept in industrial farming conditions that turn the stomach.
Two books provide the basis for much of the movie: Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a critique of industrial meat production in the United States, and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an exploration of how to eat when faced with a crisis of abundance. The two authors share narration of the movie. For sustainability enthusiasts who have already read this literature, Food, Inc. doesn’t provide much new information – but the visuals alone are worth a viewing. The vast cornfields, giant tractors, crowded livestock, and iconic characters are monumental.
Someone suggested that friends take friends along when they see Food, Inc., because it serves as a graphic and memorable introduction to the complex and fascination problem of sustainable food production and consumption. It covers a wide range of criticisms in under two hours, including:
- Produce shipped thousands of miles before it reaches our plates, sacrificing flavor and nutrition for convenience and accessibility and using enormous amounts of fossil fuels in the process. Tomatoes are picked green and ripened with gases – producing a tasteless orb that demeans the real thing.
- Crops grown with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that harm both the environment and farm workers. Many workers are immigrants who suffer poor conditions without asserting their rights.
- Government subsidies that result in mountains of under-priced corn, which become a cheap input into the processed foods that are driving American obesity to epidemic levels. One in three children is now overweight or obese.
- Excess corn that is fed to livestock such as cattle, which are natural grass-eaters and not well-equipped to digest it. The unnatural diet leads to high levels of E. coli in the cattle’s stomachs, which can infect and kill consumers.
- E. coli outbreaks that are no longer limited to just meat. As runoff from factory feedlots contaminates nearby fields, vegetables pick up E. coli as well, leading to far-flung outbreaks in spinach, jalapeños, and other vegetables.
The movie is highly recommended to all and should be required viewing for company managers in a wide range of food-related businesses. Farmers, food manufacturers, restaurants, retailers and biotech firms will learn more about consumer trends that will shape their industry for years to come – and just might find their personal consumption habits influenced as well.
In terms of stakeholder impact, Food Inc. has the potential to influence not only consumers, but also investors and regulators. Jim Cramer, the TV host of Mad Money, advised his viewers against holding Monsanto stock, citing its portrayal as a villain in Food, Inc. Cramer said the company is provoking a government inquiry through its stranglehold on the seed market, and Monsanto “better hope the guys at [The] Justice [Department] don't go to the movies.”