(2008)3.5Bruce EderA word to the squeamish is in order before we proceed with this review: those who are disturbed by scenes of animals being slaughtered (and there aren't many, nor are they emphasized, but there are a few in this movie) might want to be prepared before they see Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. That said, this is an illuminating and, at times, heartbreaking account of what's wrong with the food industry in the United States -- and for anyone who thinks this isn't a problem of some urgency, the participants make the point that the current debate over the nation's healthcare system would likely be a lot less urgent than it is if the food we were eating were healthier for us. Kenner uses his camera and an ironic sense of humor, coupled with a lot of healthy outrage, to portray precisely how the quest to make food manufacturing in the United States more efficient has damaged many of us in the most personal way possible -- inside of our own bodies. His principal villains are corporate giants -- who now control over three quarters of the food that we eat -- and their quest to bring fast-food restaurant methods to the actual making of their products (on the farm as well as in the factory); their main tool seems to be corn, along with various growth hormones and antibiotics added to cattle and chicken feed. And the main victims are...us.
One might dismiss some of the more conspiratorial suggestions made by the participants, until they give a list, complete with names and dates, of the food industry officials who have been through the revolving door of corporate employment and the regulatory agencies that are supposed to oversee those corporations' products. That list extends right up to the U.S. Supreme Court and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion favoring Monsanto, an ex-employer of his, over its control over seeds and patents; if ever a case presented a primae facia instance of a justice recusing himself, this one would seem to have been it, but Mr. Thomas thought otherwise. And that's only one of the matters addressed in this well-intentioned but, at times, slightly overwhelming exposé. Kenner presents a daunting array of facts and faces to go with them (including the still-grieving mother of a boy who died of E. coli poisoning from tainted hamburger, and a farmer who may lose her farm over her willingness to show the conditions of modern poultry barns), along with some signs of hope. And some of the faces on the side of the angels have been seen and heard from before, such as Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation. They're all articulate and engaging in making their points, and Kenner knows how to keep his camera and images moving, so that they're not just a bunch of talking heads or sometimes funny graphics. But like a meal that is one or two courses too large, Food, Inc. delivers one or two too many layers of its message for easy consumption, and the result is that one does feel a bit...gorged at the end, albeit on what is a healthy and healthful message. A little less, by a few minutes or so, might have more efficiently evoked an even stronger viewer reaction and response. But then again, it's that fast, efficient, easy way of doing things that Kenner and company criticize throughout this film, so perhaps it is best that they went slightly overboard, in keeping with who they are and what they're trying to do. The film has its moments of humor and hope to balance the mood of the piece and the seriousness of its purpose, and more than a little irony. And the silence of Monsanto and the other corporate entities criticized here, after being offered the chance to respond, is deafening.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner uses reports by Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and The Omnivore's Dilemma author Michael Pollan as a springboard to exploring where the food we purchase at the grocery store really comes from, and what it means for the health of future generations. By exposing the comfortable relationships between business and government, Kenner gradually shines light on the dark underbelly of the American food industry. The USDA and FDA are supposed to protect the public, so why is it that both government regulatory agencies have been complicit in allowing corporations to put profit ahead of consumer health, the American farmer, worker safety, and even the environment? As chicken breasts get bigger and tomatoes are genetically engineered not to go bad, 73,000 Americans fall ill from powerful new strains of E. coli every year, obesity levels are skyrocketing, and adult diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. Perhaps if the general public knew how corporations use exploited laws and subsidies to create powerful monopolies, the outrage would be enough to make us think more carefully about the food we put into our bodies.