I wasn't intending to post on this. Robert Kenner's documentary Food Inc. has been widely and well reviewed (NYTimes review here). And frankly, there's almost nothing in this movie that I, like most people who follow these issues, haven't known for years. (For a contrarian view, here's this slightly wordy but helpfully skeptical response from a blogger, Grumpy Glutton.)
But there was one thing I did not expect and am writing now to try to understand it. As the plaintive voice of Bruce Springsteen sounded and the credits rolled, I wept. Not just misty-eyed. Rolling tears and a wet face. Why on earth? What could account for this emotional response to information I already knew?
I repeat, there is virtually nothing here that I didn't know, save for the extent that veggie libel laws are now working against the consumer (you and me). So what happened?
First, the film is beautifully photographed, a real professional job. The two main tour guides, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser are filmed and recorded with appealing clarity; and they've been touting these ideas so regularly that they've got their words down pat, words I was more than happy to listen to again.
There is the emotionally wrenching story of the mom who lost her 2-year-old Kevin to E. coli (healthy happy thriving boy one day, dead 12 days later) presumably from a tainted fast food burger. She continues to fight to give the USDA more power to halt unsafe food production. Today the NYTimes advocates for the House to pass a bill this week giving more such power to the FDA.
What got me was her final plea: All I wanted, she says, was for the company to say "We're sorry, and here's what we're going to do to make sure it never happens anyone else." No dice. That wasn't coming. Her name is Barbara Kowalcyk. Her boy would have been ten now, the same age as the boy watching the movie beside me, my son James. I can't imagine.
This part scared him. "Dad, will you be OK if they catch it early enough?" he whispered. We'd have a lot to talk about on the way home.
Indeed his response will mirror that of most other people who see this movie. Upon leaving the theater, James said, "That was a really good movie, Dad. (pause) Kind of makes you want to be a vegetarian. (pause) Kind of makes you not want to eat."
Kind of makes you not want to eat. How sad is that? And it's not just the gruesome footage of the kill floor of a beef packer or the disgusting way we raise chickens, it's the increasingly clear dangers of our demanding ever-cheaper food, it's the appalling greed and ruthlessness of Monsanto, aggressively bankrupting the people growing our food.
What are we doing, what are we thinking? We need to wake up. One of the last great affordable luxuries available to us, and we are throwing it away by not caring, by demanding to pay less and less for it. Food, this gift that nourishes our body and soul, that brings us together in celebration and in grief, we are putting it in the hands of people who don't give a shit about anything except profit. I cried for my son and his future. And I cried too for the great souls who do know the way, such as the farmer Joel Salatin, who simply wants to produce the best food possible and make it available to as many people as possible without diminishing its quality.
If you haven't read these books, they're well worth your time. Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, both delightful reads. There's also the more recent The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, who's done a heroic job of reporting, but the world he reports on is so vast his book bogs down in statistics and facts; nevertheless, if you're serious about understanding this world, it's worth the heavy lifting.
Food Inc. makes two points very well that are worth repeating and then I'll shut up. One: wherever and
whenever, try to know or find out the source of your food. And two:
every time you buy food, it's a vote for more of that food; if it's excellent, you're asking for more; if it's
shitty food, you're asking for more.