Soybeans being harvested in FOOD, INC., a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Picture
By: Bonnie Walker and John Griffin.
If you've read the two bestsellers, "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," you'll be familiar with much of the information presented in the new documentary, "Food, Inc."
We read both books. Yet we found the film thought-provoking because of the range of voices heard, from those who have considered the subject extensively and those who are practical, everyday people.
The power of the spoken word mated to the images of sweeping cornfields owned by mega-corporations, not to mention the footage of the stark and troubling condition of animals sent to slaughter, are emotional, to be sure. Emotion, however, means connection -- to our senses and other people, animals and our environment.
The introduction to "Food, Inc." immediately points out that we are disconnected from our food sources. It went on to point out how fewer and fewer companies (growing ever larger) are producing the extensive variety we think we see when we walk down the grocery store aisles.
Yet many of those foods are out of reach for the nation's poorer folks. The film shows a lower-income Hispanic family going to a grocery to try to buy healthful foods. They know they should eat better, but the produce is too expensive, especially when compared with the volume of food they can get from a fast-food establishment's dollar menu. Why pay $1.29 for a bunch of broccoli when a burger is only $1?
The mother tells director Robert Kenner she thought her family had been eating healthfully on a diet of burgers and soda, but her husband developed Type 2 diabetes. Now, she says, one of her daughters is showing signs of the disease as well. As the film points out, one out of every two persons born into a minority group after the year 2000 will contract the disease.
Businessmen in FOOD, INC., a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
According to the film, the dangers have gone beyond the omnipresence of corn-based products, from syrups to preservatives. Huge conglomerates growing massive amounts of corn and soybeans at very low prices are shown as hounding independent farmers out of business. One company is depicted as a sort of modern-day Big Brother, protecting its patented seeds by going after farmers who try to adhere to the ancient practice of saving seeds from one harvest to plant at the next.
None of the mega-agribusinesses mentioned agreed to appear in the film, though some have since used their own media to dispute its contentions. The corporate entities, with names like Monsanto and Perdue, are also depicted as having strong ties with highly placed decision makers ranging from a Supreme Court justice to those in the upper echelons of the Federal Department of Agriculture.
"It seemed to me industry was more protected than my son," says the mother of one boy who died from an E. coli infection.
The action in "Food, Inc." is certainly not as scintillating as the latest "Transformers" movie, but a mid-afternoon matinee at the Bijou attracted several dozen viewers who remained throughout the film.
One of them, who asked to be identified only as Christine, was taken with "how powerful these people (running the country's food industry) are."
The intermingling of agribusiness and lawmakers in Washington came as a surprise to her. It reminded her of the modern-day Golden Rule: "Whoever makes the gold has the rule."
After one showing, a customer at the theater's snack bar was overheard ordering a hamburger, claming it would be the last he would ever eat. That says as much as the movie.