From Chris Walters
June 29, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
Every weekday the public radio station where I live carries a program called Marketplace, ostensibly devoted to all things economic. The reporters and commentators on Marketplace sound a little more despondent every day, which is understandable. As bad as the economic news may be these days, the most depressing job at that show must be reading the name of its corporate underwriter, Monsanto, followed by a catchphrase including the term “sustainable agriculture.”
If everybody at Marketplace doesn’t yet realize what a horrible lie they are promoting in exchange for money, they will after they see Food, Inc. In an era when paid flacks, viral marketing specialists and the like know how to divert vast amounts of media oxygen, if you oppose one industry’s agenda, then it’s not at all cynical to note that your propaganda has to be better than their propaganda. Thus it is no slam at all to call Food, Inc. a work of superbly efficient and appealing propaganda.
As director Robert Kenner would doubtless agree, it helps when you have the facts on your side. The movie’s target is industrial agriculture, and industrial agriculture is a disaster of staggering proportions… The movie’s virtues lie in the skill, sometimes even the beauty, of its execution. Kenner mimics corporate-ag TV style with lush helicopter shots of endless rows of crops extending into the horizon like God’s own corduroy — except he lingers on shots a lot longer than any television spot ever could, and the prettiness of the image breaks down and turns unsettling.
Then there are the people, especially chicken grower Carole Morison, who is infinitely tired of the deceit she’s had to tolerate over many years in business with Big Poultry, and Joel Salatin [photo above], whose good humor and pleasure in his work takes over the screen. Salatin [see video below] has the physical authority of somebody absolutely at home in his skin, a quality that cannot be faked in front of a movie camera.
Part of Kenner’s agenda, like the books of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (who act here as de facto narrators), is to connect viewers to the sources of their food. Here is where Food, Inc. is an unqualified success. Kenner somehow got permission to shoot inside a plant where hamburger meat is doused with an E. coli killer and turned into a gray slab for boxing, and he shows us CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] and slaughterhouses. City dwellers will flinch when they see Salatin and his crew killing chickens by hand in their open-air facility, but only for a moment. It’s a wholesome and cheerful scene alongside the industrial horrors that have come before.
A few caveats need mentioning. Kenner confronts the issue of Big Food’s takeover of organic marketing without penetrating it, and he allows Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg the last word: organic food in Wal-mart is a good thing! (There is a wonderful scene where Stonyfield executives meet a pair of Wal-mart reps and cheerfully admit they’ve boycotted the store for many years.) And the movie barely touches on industrial agriculture’s cardinal sin as the top water polluter in North America; if the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is cited, it was a mighty brief mention. Let’s hope for a featurette on the DVD (slated for release in September).
Food, Inc. closes by advising everybody to shop at farmers markets, eat organic, plant gardens, buy vegetables in season, and so on. This is a tacit admission that what to do about industrial agriculture and the carnage it creates requires a whole other movie, or two or three. In the meantime, the armies of American citizens who still don’t understand how their food supply is damaging them and everything around them is legion. Food, Inc. is a powerful tool for reaching these people.
From Roger Ebert
The next time you tuck into a nice T-bone, reflect that it probably came from a cow that spent much of its life standing in manure reaching above its ankles. That’s true even if you’re eating the beef at a pricey steakhouse. Most of the beef in America comes from four suppliers.
The next time you admire a plump chicken breast, consider how it got that way. The egg-to-death life of a chicken is now six weeks. They’re grown in cages too small for them to move, in perpetual darkness to make them sleep more and quarrel less. They’re fattened so fast they can’t stand up or walk. Their entire lives, they are trapped in the dark, worrying.
All of this is overseen by a handful of giant corporations that control the growth, processing and sale of food in this country. Take Monsanto, for example. It has a patent on a custom gene for soybeans. Its customers are forbidden to save their own soybean seed for use the following year. They have to buy new seed from Monsanto. If you grow soybeans outside their jurisdiction but some of the altered genes sneak into your crop from your neighbor’s fields, Monsanto will investigate you for patent infringement. They know who the outsiders are and send out inspectors to snoop in their fields…
I figured it wasn’t important for me to go into detail about the photography and the editing. I just wanted to scare the bejesus out of you, which is what “Food, Inc.” did to me…
Read whole article here→
See also our Industrial Agriculture series, Fatal Harvest→