Robert Kenner’s Oscar-nominated documentary seeks to lift the veil surrounding the food industry in America, and to reveal, in the director’s own words, ‘the truth about what we are eating’ – cheap food, it transpires, comes with some heavy costs. Don’t be fooled by the polished visual surface of Food, Inc., because this is a film prepared to dismantle some cherished myths about the agrarian American way of life.
Kenner’s broad thesis, which draws heavily on the works of interviewees Eric Fast Food Nation Schlosser and Michael Pollan (An Omnivore’s Dilemma and Defence of Food) is that agriculture in America has undergone a radical transformation in recent decades. A handful of multinational corporations control how produce is planted, grown, distributed and sold. Productivity, efficiency and above all profit-making are the goals of these industrial-sized farming operations, which rely heavily for labour on non-unionised illegal immigrants. Corn, which now appears as an additive in many processed foodstuffs, has become the dominant commodity crop, and is heavily subsidised by the authorities. Meanwhile the mechanisation processes throughout the system ensure further dependence on imported oil supplies.
The problems in this shift to assembly line production methods are manifold. Leaving aside the appalling conditions endured by animals prior to slaughter (which are glimpsed here on hidden cameras), there’s the deleterious impact on the health of humans. Diabetes and obesity levels, especially amongst low-income groups, are rocketing, and the E coli virus (which is transmitted from contaminated cattle) – is now infecting thousands of people each year. The artificial cheapness of American harvests destroys the livelihoods of farmers in less prosperous countries. And those who dare to speak out against the practices of agri-businesses are threatened with lawsuits, and the regulatory agencies show little inclination to protect individual consumers in their quest to find out what actually goes into what they eat.
Tellingly no representatives from the major food producers were prepared to contribute to Food, Inc., yet this persuasive film is not without practical solutions, for it champions the alternatives provided by local and organic providers. Most heartening is the example of the philosophical Virginian Joel Salatin, who demonstrates that it is possible to run a commercially successful and environmentally sustainable livestock farm.
GFT, Glasgow from Tue 16-Thu 18 Feb. Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 12-Thu 18 Feb (on Wed 17 Feb, there will be a Q&A session hosted by Frieda Morrison of The Soil Association. Before the 6pm screening on Thu 18 Feb a guest speaker from the British Science Association will present an introductory talk.