Food Inc. puts forth a lot of information, some of which I already knew:
- Corn and its derivates inhabit just about everything we buy from the supermarket.
- Factory farming leads to crowded feed lots where cows stand in their own feces and to lightless henhouses where chickens bred to grow up fast and fat squat in their own squallor.
But most of the information was new to me (feeding cows corn makes them more vulnerable to spreading E. Coli). And all of it was even more terrifying than I ever imagined.
Throughout the ninety-three minutes runtime, Robert Kenner and his food dynamic due, Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (author of Omnivore's Dilemma) build their case about what's wrong with our food system.
It started with the McDonald brothers, they say. They revolutionized making food cheap, assigning a single task for each worker to perform repetitively like robots, emphasizing consistency, and speedy production. Unskilled employees are easier to replace and cost less, you see. The food ceased being just food; now it's a product. From that point, the entire food industry, not just fast-food purveyors, followed the model. The goal, always, was to drive down costs. To increase profit. To mechanize. To optimize. To package.
Before long, the pastoral image you see of an agrarian America on commercials and food labels becomes nothing more than a fantasy. Factories, machines, exploited workers, and mistreated animals are the reality. Upton Sinclair's nightmarish scenario in The Jungle, they argue, is back, but now on a greater scale; and they make the disturbing connections to prove it.
What we get on our end as consumers is a glut of cheap, non-nutritious food that our brains are wired to crave (food high in salt, sugar, and fat) and outbreaks of salmonella and E. Coli.
Of the latter comes the film's most heartbreaking scenes. There's a profile of a mother turned beltway advocate. Her young son died within a day of eating an E. Coli-tainted burger. Now she lobbies Washington to pass Kevin's Law, a bill named after her son, which is designed to give the government the power to shut down plants that continually fail safety inspections. It still hasn't passed. Her son has been dead seven years.
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Other scenes will make you just plain furious or fearful of the handful of faceless corporations that bully and sue their own suppliers. Above all, these companies are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the public in the dark about what's really going on. Their villainy becomes more menacing than any fictional movie baddie because this is all real. As Roger Ebert succinctly put it: this film will "scare the bejesus out you".
But it closes with a hopeful note, with a list of things you can do to turn the tide.
One of them is patronize to farmers markets. And since Food Inc.'s only O.C. screening is at the Edwards University Town Center across from UCI, if you see it on a Saturday, you can do just that before you catch the film. The center plays host to one of the biggest farmer's market in Orange County.
Food Inc., Edwards University Town Center, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, CA. Check theater for showtimes.