Nov 26 2010

Food Inc.

Stasia and I just finished watching Food Inc. which is a somewhat comprehensive documentary about the American (industrial) food system.

Although it was a little over the top at times as a film (and often too literal), I think it did a good job of discussing many of the myriad issues (health, safety, regulation, politics, worker conditions, animal conditions, etc.) around the production and consumption of food in America. The filmmakers did a good job balancing the humanistic emotional stories of those impacted most severely and directly with the rational/theoretical framework of those looking at it as an entire system. In addition to host of (no doubt carefully selected) farmers, Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation are both featured heavily in the film.

In my mind, what set this film apart from others in a similar vein over the last few years (eg King Corn, the Real Dirt on Farmer John, Super Size Me, etc.) is how far reaching it is. Although the other films are excellent in their own scope, for instance, King Corn is a more in-depth investigation into the corn-chain only with the gimmick of the filmmakers following the entire process through one acre of corn that they grow themselves, Food Inc. adds the much needed perspective that bring all the connected threads into one coherent tapestry.

A handful of multinational corporations control the vast majority of food in America and as they have conglomerated and centralized over recent history they have sought one particular kind of efficiency over all else. They have been tremendously successful in creating enormous profits for the handful of owners and investors of those companies and they have brought the (first) cost of certain types of food down to unprecedented lows. With a characteristically-corporate monomaniacal focus on these goals though, a lot of other types of costs have increased, or have been passed on to others (such as taxpayers, medical insurers, and immigrants). One particularly poignant moment in the film comes when a family is talking about not being able to afford food from the grocery store because it is so much more expensive than fast food dollar value meals. When the family is asked about their non-food expenses the first one they mention is the father’s diabetes prescription and how without the expensive medication he will not be able to maintain his job. This unfortunate cycle of needing drugs to combat the bodily problems that are created by eating unhealthy (and inexpensive) food is one that exists for many (especially poor) people in our country.

Food is our most basic requirement for living, and yes we need to focus on producing it efficiently, but as a society, we also need to be looking at the total picture and not allowing predictable effects of a broken system make us unhealthy, poorer and less safe.