Jan 13, 2011

[Documentaries] Food, Inc. (2008)

Food, Inc. (2008)When we think of the industrial age, we tend to think first of automobile assembly lines. Then probably big machines and huge factories with towering smokestacks. Industrialization has always triggered two major thoughts in my head - one being modernizing production and the other being pollution.

But people don't immediately relate how the philosophies behind industrialization have been applied to many different industries beyond the mechanical ones. After all, it's all about establishing processes, making them scalable and increasing productive output while minimizing cost and effort in the long run. We see this in the major supermarket chains that dominate our kitchens and in call centers and other service-oriented job functions. We trap people in processes and we move on from there.

But even the most traditional of industries - farming and food production, have been severely affected by march of industrialization and modernization. And animals don't quite bend as easily as robots and machines do.

Food, Inc. is a 2008 documentary on the corporate farming industry in the United States. It was directed by Robert Kenner, who is a veteran of many other documentaries about a wide variety of subjects.

The documentary starts with an examination of how corporate farms handle meat - chicken, beef and pork. The movie then goes on to detail the abhorrent living conditions of the animals, the unnatural feeds given to fatten up the animals to the point of no longer being able to move and other perversities. But yeah, animal cruelty is not a new thing - it gives PETA something to be crazy about all the time. But this is just the beginning of the dark side of corporate food culture.

The next segment talks about the genetic patenting practices for grain and vegetables and epitomized by how corn and soy are handled. In many cases the seeds themselves are corporate secrets and keeping some past the planting season is considered a strange form of industrial espionage. And then there's corn and the ridiculous number of permutations it goes through in order to become other food products that we are more familiar with.

And finally the last part of the movie talks about the sheer political power of the food corporations and the ridiculous legal protections they've managed to gather for themselves over the years. The most horrible example of these, in my opinion, would be the food libel laws that punish people for even just talking negatively about the corporations. And the story goes on and on regarding other odd powers they have and the effect they have on modern society.

Michael Pollan - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, MEImage by poptech via FlickrThe movie is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.

I like the fact that the movie didn't feel like it was totally slanted against the corporations in terms of how they depicted things. They just tried to be factual for the most part and let the facts speak for themselves. And that's not very easy given the circumstances - too many recent documentaries end up taking on the pseudo righteous anger of the likes of Michael Moore. The situation looked pretty bleak here and there but overall I felt it did a pretty good job in this regard.

The stories and scenes depicted almost seemed impossible to believe to be true. But then given how things go in corporate America, sad to say that in time I grew to accept the harsh reality of what the movie was trying to say. There's a lot of sacrifices that go into feeding a country like the US all year long, but of course the same thinking had me wondering what our own local food industry is like. I don't think we're that far gone yet given the whole poverty situation prevents capitalization and upgrading of our farms no matter what corporate leaders might try to impose. But then if we're not careful, the end result may not be too far off for us.

Will things change? While the Food Safety Act was passed during the latter part of the Democratic Congress, the new Republican Congress seems pretty determined to starve the bill through lack of funding. Corporate America still has very strong influence when it comes to the Republican Party and thus in the government in general. I doubt that we'll see any significant change even with Obama trying to stay the course as the President.

And at the end of the day, the industry and all of its strange (and often horrible) practices thrives because of the consumer culture that it has cultivated and a grown into the monster that is America today. With luck, things might change in time, but I'm not counting my chickens just yet - I don't know where they've been after all!

Food, Inc. is a somewhat shocking, definitely unappetizing yet ultimately power and intelligent documentary highlighting a real concern for foodies everywhere. It gets a full 5 cruel and unusual animal handling practices out of a possible five. To get a copy, the movie is available in both DVD and Blu-ray.

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