May 6, 2009

The Celluloid Erin Brockovich of the Food Industry

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Food, Inc., a movie about the big business in the food industry, is not just an exposé about farm conditions and industrialization, it's an exposé of the manipulation and abuse that a few large conglomerates pile on independent farmers and producers trying to make a living.

I like my food and frankly, have never been interested in the demonstrations of what's in my food - demonstrations that are designed to make you sick and never eat hot dogs again, etc. I never saw Super Size Me (though just to be clear, I don't eat at McDonalds!) or read The Omnivore's Dillemma. I live a pretty pure life and food is my one vice - I don't want to hear things that disturb the one pleasure I have.

But. When I start hearing about how a small farmer is being put out of business because they won't comply with the unreasonable demands of Tyson Chicken, that gets my attention.

Featuring interviews with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dillemma, Food, Inc. succinctly tells the tale of food from farm to table and how three or four companies control the entire food industry.

From engineering vegetables to be better and brighter - "It's not really a tomato, it's the idea of a tomato," to engineering genetics to make bigger chickens, better pork chops, better beef, these companies control everything as if the food industry was a manufacturing plant. As told by Michael Pollan in particular, whose steady, calm and confident voice lends explanation and quiet outrage to the viewer. Hysteria is absent.

There are several stories in this movie that are disturbing - in particular, the story of a seed cleaner, who makes his living cleaning soy beans. Montesano, a soybean company, sued him for patent infringement, based on a stretch of the truth and effectively put him out of business because he cannot afford the legal bills.

A story of a woman whose son died of E-coli several years ago and who is now a food safety advocate is just as outrageous. The story of her son's death and her subsequent fight against the beef industry and the USDA is unbelievably difficult and heart-wrenching, as she retells her son's story over and over again to fight for her cause.

How did we get to this point? How are businesses able to control so much of the farmers' lives and our health? How in the world is this happening? This movie is, in effect, a celluloid Erin Brockovich - doing the investigation of companies and the farmers. Questioning and documenting, the filmmakers take our food sources to task.

The movie doesn't leave you hanging. The filmmakers give you ideas of what you can do to help, to take action, to take control back from these companies.

I left the theater more determined than ever to buy local, buy organic and visit my farmers' market more often. I'm hoping I can hang onto the momentum and make a little bit of a difference.

Verdict: Thumbs Up.

Food, Inc. opens in June at Cinema 21 in Portland.

Visit their website

Watch the trailer.


Sara said...

I think you might like Omnivore's Dilemma. Before you read a book like this, you kind of expect it will advocate for growing everything yourself or what you can hunt or scavenge. But he doesn't do that. His interest is to get people to think about where their food came from and make conscious decisions on what they buy (or grow if it is possible). I found it really fascinating.

chelsea said...

I really like this review + the writing! I think I'd like to watch this film.

Anonymous said...

I just watched this film last night, and it left me feeling horrified, angered, and slightly depressed. Look at what companies did to those farmers? But then I realized, I am a consumer, and the consumers are the ones who have control over the market, because if the consumers abandon the market, the companies cannot thrive and make money from the market, so they will have to move on and change their terrible ways. By the way, your writing was beautiful and touching, even though I had already watched the movie, I felt just as enraged and willing to so something as I had been watching the movie. Thank you. :]