Movie of the Day – Food, Inc.
August 25, 2011 3 Comments
I don’t often choose a lot of movies that have this closed, social agenda to watch. Don’t get me wrong though, I think documentaries have an incredible opportunity to move a point across to the public. Think back to An Inconvenient Truth where Al Gore gave a stirring power point presentation about how we are killing our planet. It created a movement where people took action to reduce their impact on the Earth. Heck I talked about two documentaries that dealt with the Green Movement and also electric cars. They were both interesting looks into a social movement or topic and presented a well thought out argument. Where I sometimes feel lost in documentaries is when they lose focus on telling me about issue and focus on pushing a message across to the viewer forcefully. It can be polarizing to be one minute informed about a subject and the next have this agenda beaten into your skull. This is why Food, Inc. is somewhat of an enigma to me in my enjoyment of the documentary. On one hand you have an informative documentary and the other you have a strong social message that turns into an agenda by the end of the film. How are you supposed to feel and what questions does it leave to be answered?
Food, Inc. is about the agriculture business, business being the keyword, and how it shapes our society and how it affects us. The documentary focuses on three different parts to our growing food production industry. Act one looks at the beef and chicken industry and how it is no longer the picture we have in our minds about how we get our meat. No more long picket fences of cows grazing and chickens just roaming free on a farm. We are hit with images of giant acres of field, jam-packed with cattle with not much room to move. Chickens are packed so tightly in sheds and altered so much that they don’t move at all in the space they live. The next part looks at the vegetable and grain production. It exposes this notion we have about how not environmentally friendly the growing of corn and soy and grains are. The last portion is about the governmental actions to close off transparency to the public about how the food is made and how safe it is. It covers the legal struggles local farmers have when they are bullied into using a corporations certain type of seed and how large corporations can skirt safety laws in the production of food.
The documentary is an incredible eye opener. We are given this unflinching look at how food is basically a large-scale operation with so many hidden doors not seen by the consumer. It gets you to think about what you eat and how you contribute to a large corporation. The first section of the documentary showed the process of raising chickens to feed the population. The chickens themselves are altered and bred to have more breast meat because that is where the white meat comes from and that is what the public wants. The chickens are just crammed into this tiny space and because of the increased weight of the breast part of the chicken, the legs give out from the altered structure. It also shines a light on how large corporations also treat the people who produce the food for them, basically putting them into debt and controlling their operations. This isn’t the only instance of shocking revelations about how are food is prepared, but I want people to see this cause it needs to be seen.
I talked earlier about how this documentary is polarizing to me and it starts with the tail end of the film where the documentary team pose that in order for things to change, we need to change. It’s an easy message to get, I mean the best way to change the ways of a corporation who thrive on money is to vote with your money. Take your business else where, demand better produce and food. This message is hinted at throughout the movie that we as a society must change the ways we eat. It’s a great message but ultimately an empty one. The film offers up this message without really giving us anything to work with. Go to your local farmers market, buying locally and be a more conscious consumer. The thing about that is some people just can’t do that. In the middle of the documentary, they follow this immigrant family and their dilemma in buying food. They work for small wages and have to stretch their money to feed the family. When it is cheaper to buy a meal at a fast food restaurant than it is to buy just a couple of vegetables, there is something inherently wrong. The film and documentarians bring up an incredible conundrum about how the common person might be incapable of changing their habits. Not by choice mind you, but the lack of means to do so. This family was used in a small segment of the documentary, but that is what struck me as the hurdle they need to address.
I get it that corporations are bad and out to get us. They don’t really have us in their minds other than a dollar sign standing in our place. If the aim of the movie is to shed a light on what the food industry does behind closed doors, then bravo. This movie accomplished a tremendous feat in getting the public aware of the issue. But when you bring in a social movement to the movie and expect that the message “we need to change” is satisfying enough to end the documentary, that just doesn’t cut it. I don’t expect answers to be handed out so easily, but just saying to buy locally can’t be the only thing we can do. I mean fuck, the family you used to show that it is cheaper to buy a fast food meal than it is to buy some fruit is the most troubling aspect of the whole food industry. Why isn’t that being addressed? I am utterly fortunate to be able to go out and afford good produce and meats. I can go to my farmers market and buy local grown food and eat healthy. Some people don’t have that option. They just can afford to do it. So what can they do to change? What can the common person who has to afford food to feed their growing family on a shoestring budget supposed to do? The focus of the film at that point should be on why it costs so much to eat healthy.
It might seem like I am made about the way the movie handled its underlying message and I am. To have a documentary about the food industry is one thing. To include this social movement at the end of the movie and expect the simple aspect of saying we need to change as consumers and then the end, doesn’t help your message. You leave us as the informed party, empty-handed with just this notion that buying locally is going to solve the issue. Frankly it is nice that some people can afford to buy locally, for other we don’t have the option. What can we do to have these food corporations have tighter restriction on how the food is produced. The entire third segment of the movie is about how some of these food companies skirt the law and make it so that they can’t be questioned. What can be done to change the system? What can be done to lower the cost of food? These are questions that are raised in the movie that aren’t really addressed. There is one more side to the argument and that is how else are we supposed to feed a growing nation? Sure the images of football field pens packed with cattle is terrible to see, but what other option is there to feed the populace? You have to look at the issue from both sides and unfortunately it isn’t great to see that sometimes the way the business is done is the most effective and cheap way to get food to the 300+ million people in the world.
This is a fantastic documentary that everyone should see. It poses a lot of questions in the end and it works in the sense that I got enraged with need to find an answer to their statement of change. But while it might be great to think buying locally and demanding better produce is effective for some people, the others just might not be able to vote with their wallet like the rest. In some ways we need these large corporations to keep the assembly line of food coming. It’s grim thing to think that we are dependent on this system of feed, but there are ways we can find alternatives to our woes.
The documentary is on Netflix Instant Stream. Peace!