A new "documentary" — and I use that term loosely — called "Food, Inc." opens today (Friday, June 12) in limited release to movie theaters. A broader release is scheduled for June 19.
The film is the love child of Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Eric Schlossar, who wrote the book "Fast Food Nation", which became a movie in 2001, and director Robert Kenner. Pollan, whose numerous books and articles have decried the physical and even moral hazard of the industrial food system, and Schlosser, both make dominant appearances throughout the film.
The film is well constructed, clever and even entertaining at times. It features just the right tone of "facts" that give the appearance of significantly more credibility than the film deserves.
It begins with picturesque scenes of American farmland, panning from golden fields to a cowboy rounding up a herd of cattle. Then the camera zooms in on a grocery cart overflowing with packaged food and rolling down the aisles of a gaudily lit supermarket, with eerie music in the background. The film points out that the pastoral fantasy of agrarian America on everything from packages of breakfast sausage to cereal boxes is not what it seems, that great danger lurks behind the cheery images of farm families, red barns and white picket fences.
Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and Monsanto are all singled out to take particularly big hits. For example, a Smithfield packing plant is the focus of the immigration discussion and "worker misuse" issues — however, does not take an equal look at the fruit and produce industries and its dominant immigrant workforce. As a matter of fact, the fruit and produce industries are virtually absent as director Kenner focuses the camera lens on the meat, poultry and corn industries, food manufacturers, a lackadaisical government and the "industrial food complex."
One segment follows Barbara Kowalcyk, who prowls the halls of Congress with her mother, lobbying to get lawmakers to enact food-safety legislation that she believes could have saved the life of her 2 1/2-year-old son Kevin, who died of E. coli poisoning 12 days after eating a contaminated hamburger.
Not surprising the film touts the wholesome virtues of natural and organic food products, as well as folksy "sustainable" agriculture. "We can feed the world with sustainable agriculture," claims an organic farmer featured in the film.
More importantly, the film draws a distinct correlation between today's "Big Food" industry and yesterday's "Big Tobacco" industry. There's a clear message that "the food industry knows it's manipulating Americans and providing unhealthy food-- and it doesn't care." The other point it drives home is "you — the public — has to take charge and demand change because the industries, manufacturers and the government won't." Kenner and his partners want to trigger Americans to rise up and take aim at lawmakers and government regulators they believe have been corrupted by lobbyists for agribusiness.
An alliance of trade associations that represent the nation's meat and poultry producers have set up a Web site to counter virtually every claim in the documentary, from the contention that E. coli contamination could be reduced by feeding cattle grass instead of grain, to charges that federal inspection agencies are understaffed and ineffective, and foodborne illnesses are on the rise. Click here to learn more about Safe Food Inc.
It may be hard to lay down the $7 or $10 for a ticket to this "documentary", but anyone involved with food production, particularly meat, poultry or corn to see what's being said about you and what consumers will increasingly believe to be true.