Movie Review: Food, Inc. (2008)

Yesterday I watched Food, Inc. in my quest to further depress myself over the State of Things. This 90-minute documentary about the US food industry has great graphics (for example, the opening credits), terrific editing, and a dispiriting message that's countered by a hopeful ending.

Food, Inc. shows viewers how a handful of corporations bent on profits are controlling most of the country’s food commodities, especially meat and grains, at the expense of their workers, their animals, and our shared environment. All of the companies named declined to be interviewed for the film. Their silence speaks volumes, especially when combined with farmers’ testimonies about having to obey their corporate overlords or face insurmountable debt, unaffordable litigation, and/or alienation from their neighbors.

Meanwhile, the animals also get abused: chickens, pigs, and cows are packed in tightly together; fed a diet designed to fatten them up as quickly as possible so they can barely walk; and are covered in their own wastes all day. They are slaughtered and dismembered efficiently – often by undocumented immigrants – but our dear planet has plenty of bacteria and sometimes the bad ones wriggle their way into the packed products.

And here the story becomes painful as the documentary looks at Kevin Kowalcyk, a two-year old who died after eating a burger infected with E. Coli. His mom has spent years talking to politicians to get Kevin’s Law in the books, a law that would give the USDA the power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meat. It never passed. It’s especially sad because his mom can’t even tell the cameras how her family has changed their eating habits because she might be liable for slander.

On the bright side, Oprah won her lawsuit against the beef industry when she talked about mad cow disease on her show. It took six years and over $1,000,000. So, yay?

There are three groups that stand as beacons of hope amidst this grim tale, and oddly, one of them is Wal-Mart. Stonyfield, now owned by the French conglomerate Danone, is still run by its founder, who pushes for organic products (no toxic pesticides, artificial hormones, or antibiotics) and is thrilled at their new partnership with the world’s biggest retailer. He figures that their message – that it’s possible to create healthy, environmentally- and public health-friendly food – can only be spread if they’re big. Well, they converted Wal-mart and they’re pretty big now, so yay!

The other group that beams sunshine into the bleak hollow of my soul is Polyface Farms, which is in Virginia and led by a very passionate farmer. Their preparation of chicken – out in the fresh air, washed by hand, processed in small batches – is in stark contrast to Tyson’s and Perdue’s methods: tunnel-ventilated sheds where chickens never see light and can’t take three steps without collapsing because of their engineered large breasts.

Monsanto, aka Evil Inc. (although it has many competitors for that title), gets to be in the finale because its GMO patent and subsequent ownership of soy beans is breathtaking. Food, Inc. shows how it’s in bed with the FDA with business cards – one side showing the individual's position at Monsanto, and the flip side with their career progression into the government regulatory agency. That is the opposite of yay.

Food, Inc. ends on a positive note: consumers can make a difference through their buying habits. Money talks, and if enough of us put our paychecks into foods produced by non-evil companies using non-evil methods, we can make things better for ourselves, for farm and meat packing workers, for animals, and for Earth! Goooo Captain Planet!

Side note: Food, Inc. showed in detail what I already vaguely knew from various sources, but what it did accomplish was getting me to be more sympathetic to rabid anti-GMO people. I work in a research environment so genetic engineering is par for the course, and back home we cross-bred golden rice with local rice to produce grains fortified with Vitamin A – for the children!!! – so I was always “SMH” at people protesting GMOs. Now I’m like, okay, I get it. But still -- #notallgmos

Here are my top three takeaways from the film:
  1. Read labels at the grocery (e.g. “no antibiotics”)! Avoid anything by Swift, Smithfield, Tyson, Perdue, and Monsanto. 
  2. The FDA is gross. So is the USDA. 
  3. No fast food. Just no. 

TL;DR: An important documentary that will one day be mandatory viewing for our great-grandchildren’s colonies to show why they had to flee the planet.

This post brought to you by celery!