Monday, July 27, 2009
Have you heard about Food, INC.? Like many documentaries it tends to screen in limited release and is disappearing from most theaters here in NYC by the first week in August, but it may just be making its way to your town if you live elsewhere. I finally made my way to the theater this weekend and have to say that the filmmakers get my ringing endorsement. Granted, watching this movie for me is like preaching to the converted, but preaching is exactly what the film avoids doing. Unlike the many films and documentaries out there that take a stab at "big food", this one manages to do less jabbing and rumormongering and more informing with slick graphics and great interviews. It follows the trail of food from where we see it in the supermarket and picks up the crumbs all the way to the farm and congress. From there the trail becomes a warpath leading to the companies that force poor farmers to use genetically modified corn and seeds, or suffer the consequences of millions of dollars and several years in court.
It's an especially powerful film for anyone with little ones at home. It addresses, among other things, the story of Barbara Kowalcyk, a mom turned food health activist following the death of her young son from e. coli bacteria contracted from a hamburger made with tainted beef. Her battle lays the foundation for a story built on the fact that food safety is less regulated by the minute because of the intense clout and money that "big food" manufacturers bring to the table. You'll give it a second thought when buying chicken breasts, pork chops or steaks for your family at the supermarket when you know of the overwhelming chances that your purchases are tainted with deadly bacteria.
There's actually a lot more ground covered in the film that finally explains in a clear and calm tone why we should be wary of these mass market products. The movie makes a case for our concern being more than just "damn the man" hippie ideals. It shows the twisted ways in which farming, immigration and health are all affected by the food system, and how without alternative means of food production we'll all soon be eating meals that come from the same 4 producers that use the same feed, infected animals and the same high fructose corn syrup (pretty much everything in your supermarket already comes from the same 6 companies). I'm not really doing the movie justice, since it did more than present arguments, also laying out a few alternatives. One farmer in Virginia cares for his free-range animals and hand slaughters them himself, grass feeding his cows, pigs and chickens the way nature intended (none of these animals are meant to feed on corn; they're all herbivores). His animals' legs don't buckle under the weight of overgrown breasts or overweight midsections. The farmer points out that the FDA considers his family run farm unsanitary because his carcasses are not cleaned with ammonia, like all factory farm meats are.
In short, the movie is a tremendous piece of work for an argument that can seem preachy and difficult to understand (I promise to get off my soapbox any minute now). I was relieved to see that the movie ends with suggestions on what you can do about supporting healthy food choices for yourself and your family, and that I already did everything on the list (buying produce only at farmers markets, joining a CSA and eating primarily at home, among others). So if you're hungry for change, take a look at Food, INC., or visit their website and watch the trailer here. They have great tips on greening your child's school lunches as well. I'll be back tomorrow with a great pesticide-free recipe and a soapbox-free post. In the meantime, get to the farmers market and make yourself and your family a great dinner!