The New York Times called it “one of the scariest movies of the year.”
I wouldn’t know, since I generally avoid horror films, but while Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. is indeed deeply disturbing and isn’t the light entertainment typically screened in the heat of summer, it’s an important movie to watch, and it does offer a hopeful note and an action plan. I bet you’ll be moved by this movie, and understand more than ever that there’s plenty we can do to affect our own diet and the food landscape in which we all live.
We buy our food in clean pastoral looking supermarkets. It’s beautifully packaged, and marketed as the bounty of our land and the product of smiling healthy looking farmers.
Once Kenner lifts the veil, the industrial food system looks very different and so much uglier.
Our industrial conventional foods are controlled by a handful of very large and powerful conglomerates shown to often put profit ahead of other consideration, including consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, and the safety of workers and the environment. Most of our supermarket foods are made from cash crops and subsidized grains, and the huge variety of processed foods (the average supermarket sells 47,000 items) is pretty much corn and soy rearranged to into something new, or what Michael Pollan—who’s featured in this film—dubs “food-like substances.”
The movie features very upsetting visuals of industrial animal farming. From the feedlots, where cows never see grass, to the chicken coops where chicken never see daylight, to the meat processing plants, the cruelty to the animals is horrific. The movie claims at one point that when companies treat animals with such cruelty and disrespect, they’ll soon lose compassion for their human workers, and it’s heartbreaking to see illegal workers, most of them with temporary jobs, endangering themselves while receiving so little back for their effort.
Even more upsetting is the fact that the industrial feedlot is the source of many food-borne health outbreaks. The tragic story of Barbara Kowalcyk, who lost her perfectly healthy two-year old Kevin after he contracted E. coli O157:H7 from a hamburger he ate on vacation, is a personal example of how this food system, which produces large quantities at a low price, has made food less safe and deteriorated our environment and therefore really costs us a fortune. This is the food system that, due to subsidies, created the absurd situation in which a hard-working low-income family (in which the dad already has diabetes) resorts to eating burgers and fries from a fast-food drive-in, because it’s so much cheaper than fresh produce (which isn’t subsidized). The unintended result of our food system is skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.
Mind you, this is not a movie that comes at you from the point of view of a vegetarian. Food, Inc. does not consider the raising and slaughter of animals as an ethical dilemma. It’s the life and death of the industrially raised animal that’s criticized and contrasted with the way organic farmer Joel Salatin raises his animals, which is seen as farm animals living quite a happy life. They work for the farmer but are also cared for in return (although they too are seen slaughtered for food).
The film ends with an empowering note: We do get a say in what we eat, and therefore we can affect what foods will be sold and how they’re made. We get to vote three times a day. If we demand better food, someone will make it!
Here are the 10 simple actions the movie makers share before they send us home:
• Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages.I highly recommend seeing Food, Inc. Learning how industrial food is making us sicker, fatter and poorer isn’t pretty or funny, but it just might stir a few more people into action. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
• Eat at home instead of eating out.
• Support the passage of laws requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards.
• Tell schools to stop selling sodas, junk food and sports drinks.
• Embrace Meatless Mondays—go without meat one day a week.
• Buy organic or sustainable food with little or no pesticides.
• Protect family farms; visit your local farmer's market.
• Make a point to know where your food comes from—READ LABELS.
• Tell Congress that food safety is important to you.
• Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections.