With a constituency limited to anyone who eats, "Food, Inc." is a civilized horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious and the hungry. Yes, it has a deceptively cheery palette, but helmer Robert Kenner's doc -- which does for the supermarket what "Jaws" did for the beach -- marches straight into the dark side of cutthroat agri-business, corporatized meat and the greedy manipulation of both genetics and the law. Doc biz may be in the doldrums, but "Food, Inc." is so aesthetically polished and politically urgent, theatrical play seems a no-brainer, though it won't do much for popcorn sales.
Corn is the vegetable-as-villain in "Food, Inc.," which builds on the work of nutritionists, journalists and activists Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") to show how multinationals have taken over the production of food. As the movie tells us, corn -- which today assumes dozens of ubiquitous identities, notably high-fructose corn syrup -- is kept at unrealistically low prices by the government, is fed to animals that haven't evolved to eat it (such as the cow), causes those animals to develop maladies that must be treated with antibiotics (which are passed on to consumers), and has led to the mutation of new strains of the E.coli, which sickens tens of thousands each year.
The whole mess is exacerbated by opportunistic politics -- tools of Big Agriculture running the very regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect us -- and consumers who have become accustomed to eating whatever they want whenever they want, in quantities they don't need.
Fast food is presented as having turned meat production into a sadistic exercise in animal torture, something that's been seen in documentaries before, and it isn't pretty. But "Food, Inc." delves deeply into the case of Monsanto, which has monopolized the growing of corn by patenting the biology inside it -- and has been allowed to litigate against insurgent farmers through court decisions rendered by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a onetime Monsanto lawyer. The whole system, "Food, Inc." tells us, is fixed.
That the filmmakers dress up all this information in glossy graphics, splashes of color and Mark Adler's often buoyant (and ironic) score is ingenious, because the artifice of the film's aesthetic is always subtly emphasizing the artificiality of the food. Schlosser and Pollan are eloquent Virgils guiding the viewer into the third circle of food hell. But then Joel Salatin -- a major figure in "Omnivore's Dilemma" who owns and operates a self- sustaining poultry-and-pig farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley -- arrives to throw some natural light onto the proceedings and illuminate just what can be done to salvage agriculture and our digestive systems.
Salatin is an infectiously enthusiastic champion of his own system, and the film needs him, because others in the movie -- such as a working-class Los Angeles family that can't afford fruit but can afford Burger King -- keep showing the insanity of the system.
Disturbing as it is, "Food, Inc." doesn't present some doomsday scenario. People can make a difference, it says: After all, look what happened to Big Tobacco.
I'm not generally in the habit of praising documentaries for being good for you, but Food, Inc. is more than a terrific movie--it's an important movie, one that nourishes your knowledge of how the world works (or, in this case, has started not to work). The movie draws, among other things, upon the muckraking testimony of Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) to create an essential, disturbing portrait of the industrialization of what we eat. It's about the way our food has undergone a corporate-chemical change during the last 30 years. The ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup, the flavorless white-meat chicken (and you thought that breast enhancement was just popular for humans), the homogenized junkification of beef that was pioneered by the fast-food industry and then spread beyond those chains to the daily supermarkets--the movie weaves these phenomena into a larger, sinister narrative of conglomerate control. Food, Inc. is a movie that's hard to shake, because days after you've seen it, you will find yourself eating something--a hamburger, cereal out of the box, a perfectly round waxen hothouse tomato--and realize that you have virtually no idea what it really is.
-Entertainment WeeklyI have to admit that after coming out of a packed screening Monday afternoon of "Food Inc,." I was suddenly convinced that all my vegetarian pals were a lot smarter than I'd ever imagined. Directed by Robert Kenner, this timely documentary offers a depressingly persuasive portrait of the evils of big American agribusiness and the often horrific journey that our food makes from corporate cornfields and cattle pens to the local supermarket. Illustrated with bracing interviews with "Fast Food Nation's" Eric Schlosser and "The Omnivore's Dilemma's" Michael Pollan, two leading investigative food reporters and essayists, "Food Inc." is more than just a documentary--it's a riveting cautionary tale.
Even though the subject matter could've been tedious and earnest, Kenner manages to keep our attention by using lots of anecdotal detail and ravishing visuals--cinematographer Richard Pearce seems to have shot the entire film (except for some scary hidden-camera footage) at either sunrise or sunset, bathing everything in a subversively autumnal glow. Its central point is that if we knew where the vast majority of our food actually came from, we'd never dream of eating it. After seeing a typical Perdue chicken house, you'd never buy a basket of fried chicken again. If you saw the inside of the world's largest hog slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C. (where a lot of the hidden camera footage was shot by actual workers there), you'd never order any more bacon with your eggs. And if you saw America's biggest cattle yards, where cows stand ankle deep in their own manure, you'd take a pass on that nice juicy steak they serve at your favorite restaurant.
The best thing about the documentary is that it does what good reporting does--it connects the dots. Ever since the McDonald brothers discovered you could make hamburgers in assembly-line fashion, farms have become factories as Corporate Agriculture geared its production toward total uniformity. Americans end up spending less money on food than ever, but we pay a huge cost--starting with the fact that one out of every three kids born after 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes--because it's cheaper to buy a cheeseburger or a giant bottle of diet soda than a head of broccoli. That's one key reason why income level is the biggest predictive indicator when it comes to obesity.
"Food Inc." offers plenty of other revelations, starting with the relationship between the weakening of USDA oversight and the revolving door of Corporate Agriculture lobbyists and executives who ended up serving in key Bush administration posts. But what makes the film really hit home is that it talks about our food in such a personal way. You realize that consuming food is really a series of choices. Once you've seen the way cows are raised in Corporate Agriculture, jammed so tightly together that they can barely move, and how they're raised on an indie farmer's open field, grazing on grass instead of pellets of corn, you suddenly want to be a lot more vigilant about where your favorite burger joint's beef comes from. This is one movie that truly provides food for thought
-Los Angeles Times
Winner of 2 News & Documentary Emmy Awards: Best Documentary & Outstanding Informational Programming -- Long Form
Community Alliance with Family Farmers