Not long ago, buying food was a much more involved process — people had relationships with their butchers and grocers, they had a sense of which foods were in season during different times of the year, and no one celebrated their birthday by going to On the Border and eating a burrito as big as their head. Thanks to a number of factors I won’t bore you with here (including anti-poverty initiatives, developments in food technology, and the ever-more-tangled American farm subsidies program), all that’s changed in the last 35 years; these days, for more than a few of us, getting food is as automatic and thoughtless as the folks who dreamed up The Jetsons imagined it would be. And one of the results, for far more than a few of us, is an obesity epidemic that has made tons of money for Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, Big & Tall franchise owners, and funeral homes.
We’ve reached the point where, as a culture, we no longer have a real relationship with our food. We haphazardly react to the conflicting streams of data we receive — eggs are good for you! Eggs are bad for you! Holy shit, there’s e. coli in the spinach! Get whole grains in your Wonder Bread without sacrificing that gummy white flavor! — without really developing an understanding of what it means. But here’s the thing: Food really isn’t any more complicated than it’s ever been. And thanks to a number of authors, including Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food), people have slowly started to take a more active role in what they eat. But book sales being what they are, a movie about the ugly underbelly of agribusiness is probably a more effective educational tool. Enter Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., which wowed critics during its limited theatrical run earlier this year, and reaches DVD and Blu-ray today.
If you’ve read Fast Food Nation or either of Pollan’s books, much of what you see in Food, Inc. will simply reinforce what you already know; in fact, both Schlosser and Pollan appear in the film, touching on points they’ve addressed in their bestselling books. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be bored — far from it. Speaking as someone who was inspired to make substantial dietary changes by both authors, Kenner has succeeded in putting together a film that will shock and move you whether you’re a nutrition nut or a fast food junkie — and thanks to his breezy, slick direction, Food, Inc. feels less like a documentary than a really well-made piece of fiction about a land where people have given up control of their diets and happily subsist on corn, sugar, and meat from corn-fed animals raised and slaughtered on mind-bogglingly enormous factory farms.
Sadly, it isn’t fiction. And as Kenner makes clear early on, people stuff their gullets with crap because — in the short term, anyway — it makes the most economic sense. In fact, for people who don’t make a lot of money, vegetables and sustainably produced meat aren’t a realistic option — and scrutinizing your diet has been portrayed as a froofy political statement so often that even people above the poverty line often regard it as unnecessary. It’s silly. What’s more important than what you eat? Don’t you have 90 minutes to learn a little more about where it all comes from?
I think you do. And you probably know you do. The only reason to avoid Food, Inc. is fear of what you’ll learn. And it is pretty scary…but not knowing? That’s even scarier.
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