Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Food, Inc. (2009): One of the disturbing aspects of American consumerism is its ability to keep us ignorantly detached from where our products come from. How did that shirt we purchased at Target travel all the way from China or Taiwan? Who made the $100 athletic shoes, and how much did they get paid for their labor? How is it possible that I can purchase a ripe tomato in the middle of the Arizona desert 365 days a year? Food, Inc. answers this latter question with terrifying clarity--it's not really a tomato I'm purchasing, but a strange modified shell of what a tomato used to be. Our food isn't what we think it is. It's less about nutrition and more about business.

While many of the best documentaries use a narrative format to tell a story (Man on Wire, The Thin Blue Line, God Grew Tired of Us), Food, Inc. sticks to its didactic guns and choose to simply present loads of information about the food industry. From genetically modified food to the politics behind the FDA to the surprisingly small amount of giant corporations who actually run the food industry, the film sheds a great deal of light on how our food ends up in our grocery stores. Sure, it tells the stories of individuals--a mother who lost her toddler son to an E. Coli outbreak, an elderly seed cleaner being sued by a multinational corporation, a chicken coop owner with loads of debt from being forced to constantly upgrade her coop--but the film is driven by the work of two authors, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. Schlosser wrote the best-selling Fast Food Nation, a scathing investigative work on the dark side of the food industry. Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma gives some of the history behind food manufacturing, especially the increased use of corn in the past few decades.

A favorite character in the film is a farmer doing his best to fight against the industrialization of the farming community, choosing to have free-range chickens and cattle instead of piling them into tiny stockyards. His thoughts on the industry border on philosophy; when we choose to see animals, the environment, or farmers as cogs in a giant machine to get us food faster, we remove their dignity and value. There's a shift from relationship to individuality, from connection to commodity.

Food, Inc. is less-than-subtle with its agenda, but it's an agenda worth hearing. This isn't just about consumer satisfaction, it's an issue of justice. When multinational corporations push farmers around, forcing them into debt in order to keep them under control, it becomes an ethical issue, not just an economic issue. The consumers actually have more power than they realize. A fascinating portion of the film focused on Walmart representatives talking with farmers and environmentalists about their consumers' desire for organic products. Walmart wasn't motivated by a sense of environmental respect--it was all about business--but they recognized that people were caring more about the food they ate, which caused a positive change in one of the biggest companies in the world.

The film hasn't transformed the way us Maywards shop for food--we're quite healthy eaters and don't buy much prepackaged junk--but it's changed the way we view the food we eat. A trip to the grocery store will never be the same.


  1. Hi Joel,
    I'm a silent blog lurker here who occasionally reads your blog via the Multnomah blogoshpere. I just wanted to say that the "Monday Movie Reviews" have to be one of my favorite parts of any blog that I keep tabs on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. I have definitely been tipped off to some great films from your posts.
    Thanks, and keep it up!
    Levi Martin - a Multnomah IT guy

  2. Levi, thanks so much for the encouraging words, you made my day! Glad to connect with a fellow film lover.

  3. Hi Joel,
    Am really interested in this movie. Is it already @ Blockbuster or is it something I'm going to have to "hunt down". The movie sounds a lot like the book "In Defense of Food" which really changed my way of looking @ food. I am now completely grossed out by all of the chemical additives, "fake food", etc.

    Thanks for taking the time to watch all of the movies you do, so we have an easier time deciding which ones to invest our time in. Dawn