Food Inc. is, more or less, the film version of the 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Not only does it star Michael Pollan, author of the book, but hits almost all of the same talking points throughout its brief but pointed runtime. In the years since the book came out those points have become popularized and to some degree dragged into the mainstream sphere of attention, but since they are so important there is no harm in repeating them.
Those ideas include imploring farmers not to feed corn to their cows (it causes E. Coli for one) and that most of the products we find in our supermarkets are just chemical rearrangements of corn and soy. And as an added bonus the film provides a jazzy soundtrack and nifty graphics, which make for a genuinely enjoyable experience for those who perhaps don’t really enjoy reading.
The film, like the book, opens with an attack on an easy target, the fast food industry. Director Robert Kenner casts a wide net around a seemingly endless list of problems that our addiction to cheap unhealthy foods can cause. We meet a woman who lost a son to E. Coli after he ate a tainted burger and a man who works to unionize slaughterhouse workers. Companies such as Monsanto and Tyson are put through the ringer, and rightfully so, but those segments are very reminiscent of the 2003 film The Corporation.
Wal-Mart, of all things, emerges from the film smelling like a rose because they at least responded when their customers showed a preference for milk that came sans the growth hormones. If Wal-Mart is going to be scorned every time they lock their workers inside the store, then they should at least be given credit when they do something that actually helps maintain the natural order of the planet.
Reflecting on his world-changing expose The Jungle, Upton Sinclair purports that he “Aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach." Here it felt as though the opposite had happened. Yes, the situation regarding the food industry in this country is sufficiently jacked up, but it is important to remember that the goal here is feeding 306 million people. So maybe everyone will have to accept some compromises, but as this film states the US government does not need to be subsidizing bad calories at the expense of good ones.
Kenner follows a poor Latino family as they grocery shop to underline the impact on the food dollar this policy has. The whole scene comes off as somewhat staged but their plight is downright palpable. There is as always a dark side and we learn about that here too. The feeding of corn to farm animals drove down the price of meat which is good…right? Having a population that isn’t starving couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. Except then people decided that eating meat five times a day was their God given right as Americans and before you could say Bacon Double Cheeseburger, America had an obesity epidemic on its hands.
Food Inc. interestingly enough does steer clear of the graphic nature of the slaughterhouse, as often times those images overpower the point. In fact it is more disturbing to watch the human toll that bad food habits enact. In a heartbreaking scene we watch the deposition of a man who had the audacity not to roll over for agriculture giant Monsanto, who is then grilled by their executives until he gives up the names of his friends. He is trying, and failing, to save his business and it only serves to add to the overall depressed nature of the film. It does end on a note of cheesy uplift as it states clearly with on screen text that the problems are ultimately of our own making and then helpfully lists a multitude of ways we can all act to combat them.
Starring: Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser
Director: Robert Kenner
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures