Thursday, April 2, 2009

Food, Inc.

After seeing Food, Inc. at the True/False Film Festival, I got interested in being more intentional about the source and preparation of the food I eat. In the future, I plan to further explore how to practically apply conscientious eating.

The following is a reprint of a film review I wrote as part of a recurring food section that runs in a community newsletter my partner and I produce on the Neighborhoods Beat at the Missourian.

It wasn't hard to find a thought-provoking documentary at Columbia's True/False Film Festival at the beginning of March.

One of the most compelling of these was a film called "Food, Inc." Directed by Robert Kenner, it weaves the intricate account of the mass-production of our foodstuffs from field to fork and makes some weighty claims about the ethical and nutritional legitimacy of the United States' food industry.

It reveals the way food is produced today. It displays vegetables that were harvested half a world away and were chemically ripened to give the illusion of freshness. It shows sprawling Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, crowded patches of dirt that house livestock that have been genetically engineered and strategically fed to grow bigger and faster than normal. Many of its scenes – though graphic – provide important information about the way animals are harvested and processed today.

Sure, there are benefits. There are no seasons anymore, and produce is specially created not to spoil. Everything is available all the time, and preparation of many items has become nearly instant. But there are hidden consequences to these so-called advantages, the documentary suggests. With an over-saturation of preservatives, pesticides and genetic modification, there are higher rates of food-related diabetes, child obesity and increased outbreaks of E. coli bacteria that the CDC says affect around 73,000 people per year.

The film states that behind it all are several mega-corporations that maintain tight control of food production and dispersal, and these companies place a higher importance on profit and speed than on health, ethics or the environment.

According to Kenner and his battalion of sources, all of these factors contribute to a food industry that is out of sync with the way that healthy consumption is supposed to function.

So, what to do? The first step is education. A puny film review like this only scratches the surface of such an essential subject, so voracious viewing and reading about the issue are key. In the coming weeks, we'll highlight some practical steps that can be taken to use the supermarket scanner as a voting booth and achieve healthy and ethical eating.

For more about "Food, Inc." or to find out how to get involved, check out the film's site at

Suggested reading:

"Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" - Eric Schlosser
"The Omnivore's Dilemma" - Michael Pollan
"Farmer in Chief" - Michael Pollan's open letter to then president-elect Obama
"The Pleasures of Eating" – an essay on responsible eating by the farmer-poet Wendell Berry

Suggested viewing:

"What's wrong with what we eat" - an excellent TED talk by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman

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