FOOD INC. - A Revealing Film Documentary
FOOD INC. - A Revealing Film Documentary
By Tom J. Kennedy
I attended two showings of Food Inc. at the Bytowne Theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. One on Wednesday, August 19th and again on Thursday, August 20th, 2009. First I will share an excerpt from the Bytowne Cinema and then I will share some information that I learned from Food Inc.
Food Inc. is 94 minutes in length and it is scheduled to return to the Bytowne Theatre from two more showings on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009, at 9:00 PM and on Thursday, December 3rd, 2009, at 5:00 PM.
More details at this website: http://www.foodincmovie.com Wherever you live watch for Food Inc. to show up in your local theatre.
The excerpt from the Bytowne Cinema, July/August 2009, pg. 13:
“You are what you eat. It is a simple expression that bears scary implications as you watch Food Inc. Director Robert Kenner draws upon the searing reportage of authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to explore how modern devlopments in food production pose grave risks to our health and environment.
These writers aren’t radicals or even vegetarians (Schlosser admits that his favourite meal is a hamburger and fries), but they are crusaders when it comes to exposing problems naming offenders.
Foof Inc. makes their critiques vivid by taking us into the lives of people who are fighting back. The documentary never resorts to stunts to make its point - just solid journalism, including hidden cameras that reveal unseemly practices. Food Inc. cogently explains how unfettered corporations exploited laws and subsidies to create shocking monopolies.
In one example, we learn how the food conglomerate Monsanto expanded its control over soybeans from two per cent of the American market to ninety per cent in the last dozen years. Monsanto has the legal backing of a Supreme Court decision, enabling them to litigate aggressively against small farmers. The decision was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who happens to be a former Monsanto lawyer.
Food Inc. carefully dissects the cozy relationships between business and government in both political parties. In opposition to these powerful interests, we meet people from all walks of life, from a Republican mother, whose two-year old son died of E. coli poisoning, to the founder of Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt, who flouts conventional left-wing dogma by seeing a positive side to Wal-Mart.”
A quote from Thom Powers, Toronto International Film Festival: “The faces and landscapes are beautifully photographed by cinematographer Richard Pearce. Two decades ago, he directed the drama “Country” which heralded the declibe of the family farm. Now his camera captures the industry that replaced that era. Along the way, we hear stories of heartbreak and outrage, but the film carefully channels these emotions towards opportunities for activism. Watching Food Inc. gives you a strong appetite for better meals.”
What I Learned Watching Food Inc.
I learned that we are disconnected and ignorant about the source of the foods we commonly eat. I learned that the major food corporations have dropped a veil so that ordinary consumers can no longer follow the food chain to the source - where they would find factories rather than family farms. Food Inc. explains that these major corporations do not want this story told. Indeed, the industrial food system has become unfriendly to we-the-people so that we won’t see the truth. One farmer says: “If we put glass walls on the giant food processing plants we would change the industry.”
Food Inc. clearly shows that the way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 10,000 years. I learned that the average supermarket has 47,000 items on the shelves and that the average American eats 200 pounds of meat each year. The average meal travels 1500 miles from where it is grown to the supermarket to your dinner plate.
One hamburger will have meat from thousands of different cattle. Amonia hydroxide is used to make hamburger meat filler in 70% of hamburgers. Faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper has become the modern way where farmers’ decisions are now outsourced to corporate boardrooms.
Food Inc. explains that in the early 20th Century, one farmer typically produced enough food for 68 people, in this 21st Century, one farmer is now producing enough food for 126 people. Ethylene gas is used to ripen fruits and vegetables which are commonly picked when they are not yet ripe. The narrator refers to tomatoes as “notional tomatoes” that is to say they are not real, traditional tomatoes but rather an “idea of a tomato.”
Food Inc. also points out that there are no bones in our meats at the supermarket and that small groups of transnational corporations control our food supply in this 21st Century. Food Inc. reviews the history of McDonald’s from the 1930’s to the present showing that it was the McDonald’s corporation that created the revolutionary idea of employing each worker to do one thing only. As with most major corporations, there is much evidence to support the statement that - “each new step in efficiency leads to new problems.”
Such a strategy made it easy to find replacement staff and these part-time workers are commonly paid minimum wage with little or no benefits, but this concept of uniformity, conformity and cheapness introduced many unintended consequences.
McDonald’s was mainly responsible for changing the way ground beef is produced since the corporations demand for burger meat expanded so rapidly in the mid-20th Century.
In 1970, five beef packing corporations controlled 25% of the meat industry. In 2008, four beef packing corporations controlled 80% of the meat industry. Tyson is currently the biggest meat packing corporation in the world. Tyson churns out chicken and all chicken farmers have contracts with Tyson. It is noteworthy that Tyson owns the chickens from birth to the point when they are packaged as meat for consumers.
In 1950, it took 70 days to grow a chicken before it was big enough to kill for meat. Tyson has highly mechanized everything about growing chickens so that it now takes only 48 days to grow a chicken for meat - and all chickens are fed a diet of mainly corn and grown to be precisely the same size. These chickens never see sunlight and many die in an dark environment of dust and feces.
Few chicken farmers dared to talk for fear of punishment by Tyson. Carol Morrison was one chicken farmer who dared to talk on Food Inc. She explained that the bones and internal organs grow so fast that their legs cannot support the weight. That’s why many die every day. Carol explained that anti-biotics is put into the chicken feed on a daily basis.
At night the workers (mostly African-Americans and Latinos) employed by Tyson come to the chicken farms and catch the chickens and load them into transports to be taken to the meat packing plant.
Carol explained that Tyson keeps the chicken farmers under their thumb by making sure that they are saddled with debt that exacts interest or usury. It costs about $300,000. to construct one chicken barn and then Tyson demands upgrades and this keeps the farmers in forever in debt. A typical chicken farmer with two chicken barns will have about $500,000. in debt.
Neither Tyson nor Perdue - two of the big chicken corporations would accept to be interviwed for Food Inc.
Food Inc. focused on corn with a beginning statement: “Corn has conquered the world.” One hundred years ago a corn farmer produced about 20 bushels of corn per acre. Now corn farmers produce aboput 200 bushels of corn per acre. It is noteworthy that 30% of the landmass in the United States is planted with corn.
Farmers are encouraged to grow as much corn as possible as the major food corporations have found ways to engineer our food. Food Inc. states that 90% of processed food with contain a corn derivative or a soy derivative or a combination of both. Corn is the main food for cattle, pigs, chickens and farmed fish. How un-natural is that? Aren’t cattle herbivores? Don’t fish eat water plants or other fish?
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is the name commonly given to the large feedlot operations where thousands of cattle are coralled and fattened for market by being fed lots of corn. The problem is that cattle evolved by consuming grass. Feedlot life for cattle is most unpleasant. They are forced to stand ankle-deep in manure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The run-ff from these feedlots increases the risk of E.coli.
In the 1970’s there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States. Now there are only 13 slaughterhouses left. Though the government has regulatory agencies, these are considered to be toothless, since they are commonly controlled by companies they are commissioned to oversee.
Food Inc. interviews a mother who lost her two-year old son (Kevin) to a disease called “hemoragic E.coli.” She became an activist with a goal to re-instate “Kevin’s Law” - a new law that would give back to USDA the power to shut down meat processing plants that were guilty of contamination. In summary, it is clear that the meat industry is more protected than the consumer.
Food Inc. spends some time following a Mexican family who buys fast food because they cannot afford good quality food. The topic of obesity is also addressed. Food Inc. explains that we have skewed our food system so that the masses commonly eat bad calorie foods. These so-called bad calorie foods are commonly subsidized from commodirty products like corn, wheat and soy. Such diets are leading to an epidemic of diabetes. Statistics now indicate that one in three children born after 2000 will get diabetes.
Food Inc. visited the largest slaughterhouse in the world (Smithfield) at Tar Heel, North Carolina where 32,000 pigs are slaughtered every day - that’s 2000 pigs slaughtered every hour. At the Smithsfield factory there are many illegal immigrants working on the line. Workers are considered temporary and often treated as human machines doing the same monotonous taks every day. Many of these workers come from Mexico where cheap corn from USA has put 1.5 million Mexican farmers out of work.
The government has been turing a blind eye to the corporations that are hiring illegal workers. Recently, the government authorities have been arresting some Smithfield workers at early morning raids at the trailer parks where they live. They made some sort of deal with the Smithfield executives to arrest smaller numbers of illegal workers each day so that the production lines will not be affected. But no Smithfield executives are ever arrested. In summary, the ever-increasing environmental, societal, health costs etc. are all directly related to the greedy, industrialized food industry.
Food Inc. interviewed a real farmer who expressed a desire to produce the best food in the world without comprimising integrity. His family keeps grass fed cattle, chickens that are outdoors and pigs that are likewise free to roam outdoors.
Food Inc. explained how Wal-Mart rushed into organics because of economics, not moral enlightenment.
Food Inc. put the spotlight on Monsanto to show how this giant corporation has revolutionized our way of life. Traditionally, farmers saved their best seeds for re-seeding. Now Monsanto genetically modifies seeds, thereby owning them. Monsanto has private investigators spying on farmers who save seeds. Anyone caught saving seeds can now be charged with patent infrigement. Food Inc. interviewed Moe Parr, a farmer who owned seed cleaning equipment. Monsanto sued Moe Parr and put him out of business for encouraging farmers to break patent law. It seems that Monsanto seeks to riun selected farmers to scare the other farmers into submission. Monsanto seeks to control the soy industry from seed to supermarket. Now Monsanto has a patent gene for 90% of soybeans grown in the United States.
Since there is a revolving door of executives from corporations and government appointments there has never been much political debate about radical changes to our food system. Centralized power is being used against farmers, factory workers and consumers.
Food Inc. also discussed topics relating to: cloned meats. country of origin labelling and the fact that one can be sent to jail for criticising a major food corporation.
Food Inc. discusses how the tobacco industry’s control was broken and suggests that we-the-people have the power and potential to radically change the food industry. Eating nutritionally sound food will help us reach the noble goal of having less people hospitalized.
We can vote to change the food system three times day. Food Inc. says: “You can change the world with every bite.” The final question is: “Are you hungry for change?”
What people are saying about Food Inc.
"Don't take another bite till you see Food, Inc., an essential, indelible documentary." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.
"Required Viewing. One of the year's most important films." - Rossiter Drake, 7x7
"See it. Bring your kids if you have them. Bring someone else's kids if you don't." - David Edelstein, New York Magazine
"Excellent in every respect." - Pete Hammond, Boxoffice Magazine
"A cleverly written and well produced documentary. Kenner crafts an intelligent, visually compelling argument grounded in old-fashioned investigative research and journalism." - Maria Garcia, Film Journal International