When you buy a pair of sneakers at the mall, you are assured of uniform size, color & quality, whether it’s in Berkeley, Biloxi or Baltimore. A kiddie pool is just as good whether purchased during the hot summer months or “out of season” in an icy winter. In the last 50 years, food has become just as mass-produced as these items, and the final product is just as artificial.
This is the driving force behind Food, Inc., a new documentary that features food journalists Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) & Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food), farmers (organic & industrial) and consumers in a fileting of the modern food industry and the shockingly few corporations that control it. The bulk of the film focuses on the production of meat: the cramped, unsanitary conditions broiler chickens & cattle inhabit while alive, and the assembly-line dissection of them by equally disposable, cheap labor (animal lovers beware: while less gruesome than a PETA production, this footage can be upsetting). This leads to an oxymoronic abundance of both deadly bacteria and hazardous chemicals, exhibited in outbreaks of E. Coli in meat products and unrelated products like spinach due to overflowing animal waste.
Lest you think you’re safe because you’re a vegetarian, the film exposes the genetically modified (GMO) soy bean crop, owned and mass-produced in a 90% market-share by Monsanto (formerly of Agent Orange & DDT), which pursues its patented plant so aggressively that legitimate farmers & agrarian businesses are put out of business through overwhelming legal terrorism. There’s also a short piece on the “cornucopia of options”, in which hundreds of seemingly unrelated products are revealed to be partially or entirely consistent of corn and corn by-products. So much for a well balanced diet.
And so much for a well balanced documentary. To their credit, Food Inc.‘s producers sought out the input of Tyson, Monsanto, Perdue and Smithfield; as title-cards inform throughout the film, all declined. Monsanto and a meat & poultry coalition have created websites decrying the film’s gritty details, but this dispute fails to address a more important issue: can food be produced cheaply and safely? A family that consumes “dollar menu meals” nightly cannot afford to “vote with their dollar” by buying the more expensive organic foods praised by Food, Inc. Yet, there’s no denying the industrial food system has failed people like Barbara Kowalcyk, whose young son Kevin died from a gruesome infection after eating a contaminated hamburger, and the increasing masses of poor families suffering from obesity and diabetes.
So what can we do about it? Food, Inc. closes with a quick text list of ten calls to action (including reintroducing H.R. 3160 – Kevin’s Law – named after Kowalcyk’s son), and lists another ten on its website Hungry For Change, but little on how to actually achieve that change. Participant Media (producers of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth) has released a tie-in collection of essays (which I have not read), and Hungry For Change contains a petition for Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (which MAZON fully supports as part of our “Hunger Doesn’t Take A Summer Vacation” campaign), but how can the family that works until 10 at night be expected to read & research even more?
The sad answer is they can’t. So it’s up to us to educate ourselves – watch Food, Inc., sign the online petition for Child Nutrition, and stay involved through MAZON and Hungry For Change – so that we can help everyone. Because everyone’s got to eat healthy.