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Film Review: Food, Inc.

by: JayinPhiladelphia

Sat May 02, 2009 at 19:57:10 PM PDT

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I attended the Portland screening of Food, Inc. this past Thursday, a documentary by Robert Kenner which takes us inside the corporate food system and attempts to give us suggestions as to how we can head towards a more sustainable system.

This review, in short, can be summed up with two simple words - see it.  The best part of the film, for me, was being able to actually see the things I had already read about and heard of.  Immobile cows being pushed and rolled towards slaughter by forklift, hundreds of baby chicks rolled and knocked around down conveyor belts while tumbling every which way including off the belts altogether, hamburger filler being run through industrial-strength ammonia washes to kill off any potential e. coli bacteria.  

Cameras take us inside an industrial producer's chicken house and show close up footage of chickens too large to take more than two or three steps before crumbling under their own massive weight.  We follow the producer as she picks up dead animals off the floor and tosses them into trash piles.  Hidden cameras give us a look at a 1 AM poultry pickup at a Perdue chicken house - live animals being picked up by the legs 3, 4 or more at a time and haphazardly tossed and slammed into trucks...

Interviews with Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan and others guide us along; as Pollan again makes the point that our supermarkets only present us with "an illusion of choice", as virtually all offerings of the industrial food system are simply "clever rearrangements of corn" and one or two other main ingredients.

More below the fold...

JayinPhiladelphia :: Film Review: Food, Inc.
We also hear (and see) the heart-wrenching story of Barbara Kowalcyk, whose 2-year old son Kevin died from eating a contaminated hamburger, and follow her on a trip into the Washington, D.C. offices of Rep. Dianna DeGette and (now-former Rep.) Phil English to gain support for Kevin's Law.

We get a nice tour of Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia, as he explains (and demonstrates) what happens on a truly sustainable farm; which stands in stark contrast to where we go next - Smithfield's Tar Heel, N.C. slaughterhouse operation, which is the largest of its kind in the world.  Hidden cameras on employees briefly take us into the plant, where we see the dangerous conditions for both animals and workers: constant lightning-fast repetitive motions with incredibly sharp knives by workers standing shoulder-to-shoulder performing tasks where speed is the only factor that counts.  

We also follow a union organizer and observe immigration raids on trailer parks housing Smithfield workers; at which point I'm thinking that maybe the police should be raiding the homes and arresting the executives and managers of the company who knowingly and willingly violate federal law in order to keep labor costs as low as possible, rather than kicking down the flimsy trailer doors in the middle of the night of the same hardworking people who very well may have been responsible for putting last Easter's ham on the dining room tables of some of those very same officers' families...

The film also covers Monsanto's operations, from the army of investigators the company employs in order to harass and sue farmers whose fields are unwittingly (and unwillingly) contaminated by Monsanto-patented seeds; to the revolving door through which many Monsanto executives pass between the boardroom and our federal government (former Monsanto lawyer and current US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Revolving Door Posterboy Michael Taylor being two of the more prominent examples); and the company's ruthless all-out attack on midwestern seed cleaner Moe Parr during which they've seized all of his bank records, ruined lifelong friendships, etc...

Towards the end the film focuses on solutions and steps we can take to move towards a more sustainable food system, but in my opinion the film gives WalMart too much credit there.  WalMart is not a friend of sustainability beyond what they can immediately materially benefit from it, and if the WalMart "race to the bottom" economic model ultimately prevails there will be nobody left who could afford to produce or buy truly sustainable foods anyways.  Let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees here...

The film's final solutions also seem to lean too heavily towards what we can do as individuals; rather than the systemic changes which are clearly needed to produce lasting and real benefits throughout the entire system, and also make it much easier for us to regularly make those individual choices towards a better future a lasting part of our lives in the first place.

The ironic thing about my viewing experience, though, was seeing it while sitting 25 feet or so away from a typical movie theater "snack bar" containing the usual assortment of roughly 900-ounce popcorn tubs with "butter", dinosaur-sized candy packages and Cokes sold in containers bigger than my head.  I personally enjoyed the film with my little stainless steel container of Portland city tap water filled right from the faucet before I left home, of course...

Overall, another very good entry amongst the recent of number of documentaries and films along these lines.  Recommended, see it when you get a chance.

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thanks jay! (4.00 / 3)
excellent review. i WILL look it up.

come firefly-dreaming with me....

I wonder if theatres hate this movie (4.00 / 2)
because the moviegoers who see it won't buy the crap that they sell. Or, sadder yet, I wonder if the people who see the movie will actually buy the crap that the theatres sell?

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

Wow. I didn't know that Justice Thomas had (4.00 / 1)
worked for Monsanto. Yet another reason to loathe the man.

I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
--"Blueberries" by Robert Frost

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