If you live in or around the Austin area, now’s your chance to see Food, Inc. It’s playing at the Alamo Ritz and Arbor Great Hills theaters. Friday afternoon my mom drove into town, and I announced, “We’re going on a hot date.”
Of course, I took her to see Food, Inc. I’m not sure how “hot” the date was — other than the 105 degree heat that persisted right up until showtime. After the movie, we dropped by Kerbey Lane for coffee and a delicious key lime cheesecake. (Rare indulgences like this are worth it when you’re out on a once-a-decade, exclusively mother-daughter date.) Our patio seating was pleasant compared to earlier in the day, but still a humid 90 plus degrees.
Being a blogger who is also a passionate advocate for Real Food, I’ve heard and read a lot about the film. Needless to say, I was mildly excited.
I’ve long wanted to see a movie that introduced audiences to the multiple failings of our food system. I’ve watched just about every documentary on food that’s been released, and only been impressed by a handful. Of that handful, none tackled our industrialized food system quite as fiercely as Food, Inc.
Don’t get me wrong, those other films (like The Future of Food and King Corn) did what they did quite well. But they only covered one piece of the puzzle. The Future of Food looked into the story of GMOs — including the loss of crop diversity, the far-reaching implications of what it means that a farmer can no longer save his seed, the potential health risks of GMOs, the environmental impact of GMOs, and more. King Corn told the story of an Iowa cornfield, expanding a segment of Michel Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma into a feature length documentary.
Food, Inc. covered more.
This is, perhaps, it’s greatest strength as well as it’s greatest weakness. By covering so many different facets of the food problem, it has the potential to serve as a great introduction to the topic for those not in the know. Yet it never gives any single part of the problem the full attention it deserves, likely due to time constraints.
For someone like me, who already knows about the ubiquitousness of corn, who already knows about the revolving door between high-ranking government regulatory positions and giant agribusiness employees, who already knows about CAFOs and factory farms, who already knows about the dangers of GMOs, who already knows about the public health risks of industrialized food, who’s already connected the dots between government subsidies of commodity crops and the way the globalization of our food supply undercuts farmers in third world countries, this film essentially preaches to the choir.
I watched the entire film waiting to see something I didn’t already know, and the film came up short.
But for the uninitiated, or for someone who isn’t as fanatical about where their food comes from as me, I think the film is a great introduction to the key issues at hand.
You know who they are. They’re your friends, co-workers, relatives, or fellow church-goers. They’re people who would never be inspired to pick up a book like Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation because they simply haven’t got the time to read.
But maybe, just maybe, they might go catch a movie with you.
They’d probably never pick this movie of their own accord, so they need someone like you to invite them along.
So, before you become a Real Food Revolutionary plotting to convert your friends and family by taking them to see this film, you should know a couple of things about what you’ll be seeing:
- The slaughter of animals. The film contrasts the inhumane and machine-driven slaughter of hogs at the rate of 400 per hour with Joel Salatin’s team killing chickens by hand in perhaps the most humane and clean way we know of. You will see animals die. If you’re like me, you’ll be uncomfortable even when watching Joel’s method. But Joel has a point: this is intimate work; we should know what taking another life is like, even if it’s just the life of a chicken.
- The seedy underbelly of giant agribusinesses, particularly as it relates to the human side of the story. You’ll see how indebted farmers are kept when contracting out to these corporations (an average chicken farmer takes out $500,000 in loans to build two chicken houses which will turn a meager $18,000/year in profit). You’ll watch the tears of a mother (now a food safety advocate) whose two year old son died after eating an e-Coli contaminated hamburger. You’ll see a struggling California family making the choice between paying for the father’s diabetes medicine or eating healthier food because they simply don’t have the money to do both. Your heartstrings will be pulled, and rightfully so.
Thankfully, the film ends on a positive note.
Remeber Big Tobacco? They were a large, unscrupulous industry which had congress in the palm of their hands. Yet because of a shift in public thought, they came crashing down.
The same can happen to Big Food. They think they control the shots because they hide the real story from the average consumer. But as enough of us take action, voting with every bite of food we consume, we will have the momentum and power we need to watch this industry crumble. Barring total economic collapse, I don’t see them disappearing. (After all, tobacco is still thriving, even if it’s not as popular as it was in its heyday.) But I do believe that corporations respond to consumer demand. They have to. It’s why Wal-Mart carries organics now. So, in the very least, I believe we can see Big Food change its practices towards something more sustainable.
And as for me and my family, we will keep eating as sustainably, organically, locally, and traditionally as possible.
In case you haven’t seen it already, watch the trailer: