Food, Inc.

a film by Robert Kenner

It was all so very business-like that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making reduced to mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the pigs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury as the thing was done here--swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without a pretense at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering-machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and memory.

The above is a paragraph from Upton Sinclair’s great muckraking novel of 1906, The Jungle. The book that managed to create such a socialistic fervor among the outraged public that with the help of then president Theodore Roosevelt it completely revolutionized the food industry. Taking on everything from child labor to unsanitary meatpacking practices, Sinclair’s book changed the face of how food was made and sold in America just after the turn of the century. Now here we are, in deja vu mode all over again, just after the turn of another century, and along comes The Jungle of today – Food, Inc.

Is the movie Food, Inc. as great a revolutionary event as the novel The Jungle was? Perhaps not, but Food, Inc.’s importance is no less than that of its century old brother-in-arms. Robert Kenner's film is not necessarily revelatory. It is pretty much a greatest hits of sorts, gleaned from the likes of Super-Size Me, Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. When Kenner talks about the factory farm and corporate slaughterhouses being breeding grounds for torture and disease, one isn't all that shocked. When Kenner tells about how big companies with endless supplies of lawyers, guns and money will undoubtedly put asunder the little man every single time, again, no one should be all that shocked. When Kenner reveals the big secret (get ready!) that fast food is bad for you (what!? say it ain't so!!) again, no one is particularly gasping in the aisles.

No, the film will not cause the stir of The Jungle but what Food, Inc. will do, in lieu of revolution (because such a thing is so 20th century) is change the way we look at food. Whether it be meat or vegetable, fruit or cereal, potato chip or pudding - or that large popcorn that will be sitting in your lap when watching this film - it will be a different look. A defiant look. A look that may, much in the way the tobacco industry was changed, be the spark that changes the very way we eat in this country. Whether it really does such a thing in such a complacent society such as ours is yet to be seen, but no matter the outcome, Food, Inc. is indeed an important film to see.

Will I ever eat another cheeseburger? Well I cooked one up and ate it just hours after watching the film, so I suppose the answer is yes, but then this film is quite pragmatic in a way. It is never preachy. It never leaps onto any sort of soapbox. Food, Inc. does not advocate vegetarianism - though it does (and probably should) advocate the buying of locally made food and going to farmer's markets instead of big soulless supermarkets. In fact one of its "heroes" is an old school, al fresco farmer who happily rips the heads of his free range chickens to sell them at market. It is not the food that is killing us all, but the conglomerate that runs it all. Kenner is merely giving us the information to change all that. Food, Inc. is a horse of a different color - or make that a cow, pig or chicken of a different color.

What Food, Inc. is, is a modern day horror movie where the big companies and the government agencies populated with yes men and puppet heads are the hockey-masked, axe wielding maniacal killers that keep rising and becoming stronger and stronger and stronger. Another Sinclair passage from The Jungle reads as such: "All of these agencies of corruption were banded together, and leagued in blood brotherhood with the politician and the police". Until the system is fixed, movies like Food, Inc. will keep getting made. Little by little, step by step, the system will change. It has already started. Even a company as heavy-handed as Wal-Mart has made steps to incorporate organic foods into the inventories. Kenner makes sure to underscore the fact that it was not some awakening moral change in Wal-mart so much as an economic necessity, but the change is happening, however small in stature.

What can we do? Watch this intriguing and important film and the answers are there amongst the images of unidentifiable meat by-products, small, independent farmers being forced out of business and already struggling families having to choose between expensive healthy food and cheap unhealthy food. Borrowing from The X-Files, eerily resembling Food, Inc. in many ways, the truth is out there. Bon appetite. [07/16/09]