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Friday, February 12, 2010

Film Review | Food, Inc.

Harvest of shame

by Thomas Delapa

America, land of good and plenty, was once a moveable feast. But take one bite out of Food, Inc.—now on DVD—and you’re likely to lose your lunch. Plop plop, fizz fizz. That’s the sound of your stomach on junk.

For those with a taste for muckraking exposés, documentarian Robert Kenner dishes out the dirt on the U.S. food industry, from bad seeds to hog heaven and beyond. If this movie doesn’t make you want to drop your burger and run for the border, nothing will.

Collaborating with best-selling authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Kenner takes a meat cleaver to the billion-dollar food industry, jumping--sometimes pell-mell--from bean growers and chicken ranchers to the local grocery store. The family farm is fast going the way of old MacDonald, devoured by over-mechanized, unsustainable factory farms serving up a diet that may be hazardous to your health.

For this pungent if one-sided polemic, Kenner rounds up the usual suspects in the corporate food chain, including burger king McDonald's, chicken giants Tyson and Perdue, and bio-chemical behemoth Monsanto. (Evidently ducking Kenner’s interview requests, industry representatives are conspicuously missing.) In one of the most un-finger-licking sights, thousands of teetering, super-fatted chickens--juiced up on hormones to grow big breasts--are crowded together like sardines while they await slaughter inside a poultry farm. Contrast this fowl concentration camp with the old-school philosophy of Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, who lets his livestock roam “free-range” style and feed on natural grass.

Ironically, American food today is more plentiful and cheaper than ever, but partially that’s due to the fat government subsidies paid to farmers to grow corn, the nation’s new cash crop. The main ingredient today in animal feed, corn has dubiously yielded a cornucopia of modern food filler and flavorings, starting with the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup. In an outdated vestige of primal needs, we humans are hard-wired to consume sugars, salts and fats--the least healthy and most addictive ingredients in the U.S. diet. The bitter truth is that rates for obesity and diabetes have gone off the scale since we deserted home cooking for super-sized Happy Meals.

Kenner ladles on his points at times, and isn’t above stirring in a heaping portion of pathos. One episode features the crusade of a mother whose young son died from E. coli poisoning, evidently caught from a tainted hamburger. But the wider issues of the boy’s death--such as the Bush-era decline in USDA and FDA inspections--are impossible to ignore, particularly in light of last year's ad nauseam outbreaks of food-borne salmonella.

While you digest the unsavory ramifications of Food, Inc., you may be reminded of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle crossbred with the sci-fi terrors of Soylent Green. Kenner has a lot on his plate, too much in fact, but thankfully he also adds in a helping or two of hope, starting with the flowering of the organic movement. No kidding, if Americans want to eat right, they really will have to save the farm.


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