Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Food, Inc.

Here's an interesting, under-the-radar documentary I'd recommend checking out: Food, Inc. Despite good reviews, I was a bit hesitant going in for two reasons. One, I hated, just hated the last documentary I saw about food, Morgan Spurlock's juvenile, simplistic, grotesquely overrated Super Size Me, a feature-length movie that seriously followed a man eating three enormous meals from McDonald's everyday for a month and then behaved as if him gaining weight and feeling sickly was some kind of fucking revelation.

And two, I was worried it was going to be a vegan pep rally rehashing the same footage of chickens getting manhandled and abused and roosting in shit. I take no joy in the animals we eat being abused, but I've already seen all those videos online just like everyone else. And yes, Food, Inc. does dedicate one of its many chapters to this issue (and rather than just finger-pointing, also highlights solutions and profiles a successful farmer who uses alternative humane methods), but it's otherwise an interesting and comprehensive analysis of a corrupt industry. This is the good kind of documentary, the kind you'll almost certainly learn shit from.

It has the structure of a nonfiction book; rather than trying to tie each topic together into one long loosely-flowing narrative, it's divided into several marked and distinct chapters, each detailing a different aspect of food industry corruption. Through research and interviews the film sheds light on the degree of contamination food companies will let slip by for increased profits, the legal power of these companies and how they ruthlessly clean out those who speak ill of their foods or farmers who violate their ludicrously broad copyrights, and how they take advantage of illegal labor and cronyism and corporate loopholes to maximize profits and insulate themselves from recourse.

But for me the film's most interesting chapter was about fast food, that very same topic that Morgan Spurlock dipped so shallowly into five years ago. Using a giant $1.00 burger and $1.29 head of lettuce as examples, it details how government subsidies make fast food extremely cheap while healthy food remains expensive and how they use this system to prey on the lower class. For anyone curious about the outward paradox of how poor people seem more likely to be overweight than the wealthy, this movie answers that query in elaborate detail.

The film's presentation is polished and professional, the scope comprehensive, and the material well-researched and relevant. Also, rather than just pure anger-stroking, it offers solutions to nearly every problem it presents. It's out of theaters everywhere except the biggest cities, but it's definitely worth checking out via Netflix once available, even if you already know all about animal abuse.

3 Stars out of 5

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