CINEMA: You Are What You Eat

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FOOD INC. (2008, directed by Robet Kenner, 94 minutes, U.S.)

BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FOOD CRITIC As investigative reporting has dried up in TV newsrooms, the investigative documentary feature film has enjoyed a golden age over the last decade.  Health care, defense policy, globalization and the financial industry have all been taken to task over the last few years, with facts, figures andforeboding drones giving gravitas to the warnings of expert talking heads.  The analysis they provide is valuable, the problems they uncover serious and well-documented yet it is easy to write many of them off as problems that we feel powerless to change.  A new broadside at the food industry, the documentary Food Inc. gives us a problem from which it is much more difficult to distance ourselves, our relationship to the subject being so intimate.  Presenting truly everything you did not want to know about the modern food industry, Food Inc. uncovers the queasy truth about a system we’re in touch with every day, and yet know little more than the average pig being slopped.

Summarizing the arguments of two best-selling authors, Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Food Inc. gives an overview on all the ways the profit-driven corporate philosophy of efficiency and technological problem-solving has been an anathema to the cause of good eating.  In clear and level-headed terms, director RobertKenner explains how government subsidized, genetically modified corn is the engine that fuels a system that leads to such societal maladies as the Ebola virus (which grows in the corn-fed bellies of cow’s stomachs that wereFood_Inc_2_1.png meant to eat grass), undocumented labor (supplied when NATFA -era corn floods and destroys the Mexican farming system), a high-fructose fueled obesity epidemic and a single crop domination ruthlessly enforced by conglomerations like farm giant Monsanto.

The factory slaughterhouses shown are like something out of a Charlton Heston 70’s sci-fi film, long corridors of hazmat suits, all doing their assembly line jobs while the carcases whiz by them at blinding speeds.  We’ve gotten used to seeing the whirlwind of meat in such processing plants, what we don’t usually see in the “farms” the animals live in before they get there: a place where cows, pigs or chickens stand shoulder to shoulder for their entire life, pumped full of antibiotics and knee deep in a stew of feces and urine.  With their hides caked in feces by the time of slaughter, it seems like the system could function as a test tube for new diseases as much as a food operation.

Other horrors are documented, the patenting of plants that has allowed Monsanto to pursue the property of farmers who have had the company’s licenced seed blown into their fields, the mother of a child killed by tainted meat (the company refused even an apology), the plant workers who are as abused as the animals, the Frankenstein chickens who mature at such an accelerated rate their legs can’t support them and you the consumer, who eats what is best described as the “concept of a tomato” rather than the fruit of the original unaltered tomato plant.

What a night at the movies, you’re guaranteed to be made nauseous, no matter what your political persuasion might be!  Most of the companies indicted in the film refuse to defend themselves on camera but as Food Inc.’s charges make their way into the average consumer’s consciousness I can’t imagine that they won’t soon have to address the question of what Americans should expect from the food we’re sending to our bellies.  You are what we eat has never been made so disturbing a thought.

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