The industrialization of food has turned us into a nation of dietary gamblers. We consume “food” made in laboratories, treated with pesticides, and processed to the point where ingredient lists require translation. E coli kills kids, and fingernails float in chili. We get scared, boycott spinach, and continue eating Jack in the Box. It’s a vicious cycle. Americans and their diets are like Americans and their religions: you don’t fuck with them. But once in a while, a campaign comes along that is easy, and necessary, for Americans to follow. An Inconvenient Truth demonstrated how willing we are to change just so long as we can buy “green” dish soap at Target. Going green is the new Atkins diet, just less self-centered. Of course, this kind of marketing is profitable, because the results — a gradual betterment of our life on this planet — are accidental, therefore allowing individuals to retain the same amount of lazy apathy they always have. People go for the fad, not the idea. Here’s to hoping Robert Kenner’s new documentary, Food, Inc. does something for America’s political sweet spot.
Food, Inc. is an incriminating portrayal of our nation’s food industry. Following the format of Michael Pollan's brilliant book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the film travels from cornfield to kitchen table, making a few stops along the way at slaughterhouses and government offices. The end result is like a bloody box of cereal: bright and glossy montages of packaged foods framed against the backdrop of screaming swine and gutted chickens. It's an effective technique, to say the least. However, it's not just another animal rights manifesto — that's more of an inherent aspect of the argument — it's also a human rights manifesto. We have the right to know what's in our food and where our food comes from. As Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, observes early on in the film, "The food industry is a world that's deliberately hidden from us."
Of course, it doesn't take a genius to know that Twinkies are made in laboratories; we don't need a film or a book to tell us that packaged foods with shelf lives of a hundred years may not be the healthiest thing to put in our bodies. We still continue to eat this kind of shit because we have an astonishing capacity for an almost Orwellian perspective like doublethink that allows us to be fully aware of the health dangers our diets pose, yet we continue to frequent the dollar menu at McDonald's. Robert Kenner realizes this, but rather than rehash the Super Size Me shtick, Food, Inc. takes the argument to a communal level: How do our eating habits affect farmers and the communities built around sustainable farms?
It ain't pretty. The rise of industrial organic — here's looking at you, Whole Foods — and the immortality of such mega-whores as Tyson, McDonalds, and Monsanto (the genetically engineered Hitler of the crop crowd) -- has wiped the earth clean of independent farming communities. And it all comes down to money anyway, as corporations wipe their collective ass with Benjamins and throw down millions in intimidation fees. In one particularly harrowing scene, Monsanto bigwigs interrogate Maurice Parr, an independent seed grower, for combining their patented product with his own seed cleaning. Because of the court costs, Parr was forced to settle with Monsanto and give up his business. Other farmers speak anonymously — their faces shadowed and voices distorted, and report similar stories. Corporate greed and domination has turned farming communities into paranoid street corners. Farmers keep their eyes out for shiny black cars and business suits. Former friends and neighbors become alienated and cross their fingers that a Monsanto seed doesn’t find its way into their own crop. Big Brother is now the nation's seed grower.
Before the closing credits, Food, Inc. offers tips to those who are "hungry for change." Plant a garden, support local produce, keep the planet healthy — all of these ideas are easy to digest. Watching a Tyson farmer walk through a chicken house and collect corpses because death is the easy way is harder to digest. San Francisco certainly couldn't take it — the audience let out a collective groan as a box of meat filler (animal scraps, ammonium) is shown to the camera, and the man holding the box tells us this kind of shit comprises 70% of American hamburgers. Obviously, I was sitting amongst the choir for this kind of film. San Francisco is already hungry for change, as are the other cities where Food, Inc. will have a limited release. The film’s message leaves less of an imprint when the majority of the audience shops at farmer's markets and tends their own city street garden. Food, Inc. needs an audience of townies — those who purchase family-size buckets of KFC and call it dinner or those who swear off red meat when Oprah tells them to. Get Oprah behind this, Robert Kenner, or at the very least, Al Gore — then you can have a concert and "going local" will be the new green.