Images are powerful—especially moving ones.
I’ve done so much reading about the industrial food system, about big organics, about sustainable agriculture. None of the content of Food Inc., which I saw yesterday at the American Academy screening, came as a surprise to me, but it still made a powerful impression because of the combination of music, images, sounds and words that only film can do. The timing involved in these combinations—as in the moment when a voice (Eric Schlosser’s, I think) says that one hamburger may contain meat from thousands of cattle, while we watch a huge turd-like tube of ground beef ooze out of a stainless steel hole—induces a visceral response in a way that a book or an article in the New York Times can’t do. I hope lots of people see the film.
Other strong impressions: the scenes depicting the terrible treatment of workers were very moving—especially the night-scene of the illegal immigrant arrests, when the workers who are part of the system that ensure cheap food for Americans are rounded up and shoved like animals—in fact, much like the chickens, pigs, and cows we also saw being rounded up for slaughter.
Another: almost everyone is overweight—the farmers, the families, the politicians. The only ones who are thin are the heroes of the film, and some of the male illegal immigrant workers.
And another: the scene of the family stopping at a fast food restaurant for their dinner, because a dinner for four only costs $11.98 and because their commute will not get them home until 9 at night. This scene is followed by a trip to the grocery store: the youngest (overweight) daughter wants fresh fruit, so they look at the price of pears. Too expensive. They move on to the processed food aisle.
The major flaw in the film is the treatment of this family’s situation, however. The issues of economic class are presented, and then left hanging. Yes, Michael Pollan speaks and has written about the need for policy change that will make healthy food cheaper than processed corn-based food. But this hugely important idea is only given a few seconds in the film, whereas the hammer-it-home message at the end of the movie is given many minutes and many flashy images. This message—that you vote with your fork “three times a day”—is deeply flawed. On the one hand, it would have us all following Samuel Kayman’s implicit advice to shop at Wal-mart for our food. But more importantly, this message blatantly ignores that family who eats fast food for dinner. Not only does it ignore them, it disenfranchises them. They are too poor to vote with their fork.
There was much more attention to the issue of food safety, and some optimism about effecting policy change in the direction of greater food safety.
In the end, though, even though there were gestures of hope—like the inclusion of Joel Salatin’s paradigmatic farm—the overall effect was bleak. I hope we can achieve major policy changes, of course I do. But Food Inc.’s most lasting impression is that big business controls the government, and that without millions of dollars to use as weapons against it, Monsanto will take over the world.
The colorful gleams of text at the end—”you vote with your fork”—were pretty pathetic talismans held up against that dark overlord.
For some follow-up thoughts on a more positive note, please check out the next post.