Food, Inc. Documentary on Where Our Food Comes From (Review)

Official Food IncThe tag line for FOOD, inc. is “You’ll never look at your dinner the same way again,” and well, they’re right. This for some of you may be the very reason why you decide in advance to not watch it, or to not read the rest of this post, but let me encourage you to a little bravery: what is happening in our food industry, what is going into our food, what is happening to the earth hosting the growth of this food, what is happening to both the animals and the people who are growing and raising this food, and what’s happening to the people eating this food, is something that concerns you, your family, and our children future. This is the kind of stuff you really want to know about. And far from being a scare-feast, this film is well documented (and yes, some of the details are disputed as in all documentaries) and the big picture it paints is one of needed change, rather than simply doom and destruction. This is the kind of film that motivates, and leaves you, or it at least left me, feeling like I can actually do things to respond (that don’t all include shopping more!).

Food, Inc. is a 2008 documentary by the filmmaker Robert Kenner, which came out this June. It gives us a look into America’s food industry, where our food comes from, the conditions for both the workers and  animals on those industrial farms, and some of the bi-partisan politics behind what is happening. It is also recieving a lot of rave reviews (see listing below) at such sites like Rotten Tomatoes which has given it a score of 97/100,  the consensus being that it is: “An eye-opening expose of the modern food industry, Food, Inc. is both fascinating and terrifying, and essential viewing for any health-conscious citizen.”

The film really is an unveiling of much of what is going on behind closed doors (complete with footage from hidden cameras, etc.). There was a day and age when humans were directly connected to the our food source, we knew where it came from, we knew the names of the people who grew it (or were the ones growing it), and all this organic, free-range, grass-fed blah, blah, blah, needed no labels because it was the expected and natural way of life. But as Michael Pollan has said:

“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000, but the image that’s used to sell the food … you go into the supermarket and you see pictures of farmers. The picket fence and the silo and the 1930s farmhouse and the green grass. The reality is … it’s not a farm, it’s a factory. That meat is being processed by huge multi-national corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers.”

Food, Inc. brings us into the stark reality of the multi-national, uber-powerful, industrialized food factories. It confronts us with some really difficult facts, images, and stories. At times during the film I felt scared because it feels so big, at other times I found hope because there are many stories in the film about what individuals and families are doing to respond. I found the story-telling to be powerful, the voices and people interviewed to be true-to-life, and the overall narrative to be not simply doom-and-gloom filmmaking but left me with the feeling of a heavy burden that needs to be and CAN be responded to. This is a well made film and not just informational but entertaining to watch. It is, in the words of the NY Times, truly and activist film. That is, it calls for action around a variety of deeply important issues.

Here are some of the more astonishing statistics from the film:

  • In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market.
  • In the 1970s, there were thousands of slaughterhouses producing the majority of beef sold. Today, we have only 13.
  • Prior to renaming itself an agribusiness company, Monsanto was a chemical company that produced, among other things, DDT and Agent Orange.
  • In 1996 when it introduced Round-Up Ready Soybeans, Monsanto controlled only 2% of the U.S. soybean market. Now, over 90% of soybeans in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s patented gene.
  • The average American eats over 200 lbs. of meat a year.
  • During the Bush administration, the chief of staff at the USDA was the former chief lobbyist for the beef industry in Washington (And Obama is making similarly poor choices).
  • 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes; Among minorities, the rate will be 1 in 2.
  • E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks have become more frequent in America, whether it be from spinach or jalapenos. In 2007, there were 73,000 people sickened from the E. coli virus.

My favorite part of the film was certainly Joel Salatin, a self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist farmer” (who apparently loves Wendell Berry) and is well-known from Michael Pollan’s must read book, the Omnivore’s Dilema. In fact, my wife says Food, Inc. could be thought of the movie version of the book, so if you find yourself really interested in knowing more Pollan’s book would be a great next step after watching this. Anyways, Joel is kind of a super-hero when it comes to farming (see his webpage here). He’s growing everything as completely natural as possible, keeping a live the art of farming and gardening the way it was meant to be done. Joel’s approach is radically counter-cultural to the massive industrial sized meat-factories, and that’s the appeal. He’s actually making a living, loves his work, and enjoys educating others not on just what to eat, but how to really farm.

The film left me with lots of questions and a lot of energy to begin making even more concrete steps to eating well. We at the Daniels ranch at doubling our efforts to cut meat out of our diets (I ate meat at three meals this past week), supporting the local farmer we buy our eggs and most of our veggies from, and looking into ways that we can produce more of the things we want to eat. I find it really fulfilling to be more involved in these ways with our meals,  when we pray over dinner saying, “God, thank you for this food you’ve provided,” it feels more connected for me.

If you’re interested, here is a list of places where You can see the movie. Of course, you can always get it on Netflix and rent it (at the library for free) now that it’s out as well.

Here are some suggested responses.

Also, they recommend participating in Go Meatless on Mondays

A couple more reviews:

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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