Sunday, August 8, 2010

Food, Inc

Saturday night, I finally got around to seeing Food, Inc. For those of you who haven't seen the movie yet, Food, Inc is a documentary about, yes, food. Or rather, it's about the modern, American food industry, which is really a whole 'nother can of tomatoes.

Now, obviously, I agree with most of Food, Inc. And I think that it's certainly valuable and meritorious for the filmakers to continue our national conversation about food.

But, I also think that, frankly, so much has been written and filmed about this subject, and thus we can differentiate between This-Movie-Has-Educational-and-Important-Content-So-It-Must-Be-Good and This-Movie-Is-Actually-Good. And unfortunately, I think Food, Inc falls into the former category and not the latter.

Firstly, there was no narrative. The film sort of jumped around from subject to subject without any sort of cohesive thread that I could discern. And as The Boy (who really needs some sort of cute blog pseudonym ... any suggestions?) commented, "This movie really rests upon the backs of Crunchy Chickens."

By which he meant that the movie provided interesting visuals for people who had already read Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or Crunchy Chicken. But for those who had no prior information, the movie glossed over too much. As an example, The Boy noted that he had really enjoyed the section in The Omnivore's Dilemma in which Pollan explains Joe Salatin's farming technique and why it works. Without that background, the scenes on Polyface Farm just turn into Joe ... talking.

And speaking of things that were covered better in The Omnivore's Dilemma, let's talk about Food, Inc's rhapsodizing about organic food. Now I freely admit that I am, of recent, a slave to Whole Paycheck and Earthbound Farm. However, I really appreciated the way Pollan dealt with Industrial Organic, and the complexities and contradictions that lie therein.

I get that a movie may not be able to handle that complexity in quite that depth, but I figured some attempt would be made. And I certainly wasn't expecting the head of Stoneyfield to get to expound on how he was SAVING THE WORLD by getting his line of organic yogurt in Walmart ... I mean, again, I appreciate the lack of pesticides used, and I eat and enjoy Stoneyfield, but buying yogurt from a company owned by Groupe Danone isn't exactly a revolutionary act.

So overall, I think Food, Inc covers an interesting and important subject in a rather banal way. If you are interested in the American food industry, go read Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or watch King Corn instead.


Lee said...

Thanks for the review, because this is one on my viewing list that I haven't got around to seeing yet.

We're starting to prepare for a serious amount of food production here on our farm now, and I'm starting to understand how difficult true organic actually is.

For example, I've a mouse family living under the compost bin, next to the chook coop, eating some of the chook food and most of what goes into the compost.

Sure as far as I can tell there's not many of them yet, but mice breed like anything.

So - the dilemma starts. Do I trap them, poison them, or just assume they won't breed and humanely let them be? Nothing is easy, when you try to do the right thing, instead of the easy thing.

And if I leave them, by the time six months is over, I could have mice in the house (only about 15 metres away/ less than 50 feet away) which I definitely DON'T want, having dealt with mice in another home before, and all the droppings, holes in linen etc.

So organic is a tough nut. It requires brainwork that conventional farming doesn't need. You have to think problems through.

It's a learning experience, not least because I'm learning how ridiculously CHEAP supermarket food is, and how we're all in for one hell of a shock when the oil gets more expensive, and we actually have to really start paying for our food in *real* energy terms, not just new shekels.

Yep, a learning experience. One I wouldn't miss for anything, and I'm also really glad I've become a producer, and am becoming less reliant on the conventional food production systems which are increasingly up against a wall and facing forced cost increases.

And I guess I'll try to remember to blogging what I do about those dratted mice!

Chile said...

I have, unfortunately, come to the conclusion that many of the documentaries that would be useful in converting more people to a "better" lifestyle are poorly made. All seem to lack narrative and jump from one topic to another, often simply from one interview to another, with no segway.

I was very disappointed when I finally got "The End of Surburbia" from the library. Anyone not already familiar with the problems of peak oil would have turned it off in the first 10 minutes! There was anoter one I watched recently that is highly spoken of, and unfortunately I can't remember the title, but it had the same problem.

All the documentaries preach to the choir instead of taking a subject new to most people and going through the basics. It's too bad because these messages need to get out there but won't until documentary filmmakers learn how to produce a better film!

Katy said...

I watched Food, Inc. with my extremely conservative father and I have to agree with your review. There was too much jumping around. Too much preaching to the chior.

We need a moive that to the audience that has just steped out of their hummer and is planing on stoping at McDonalds on their way home.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I was looking for ANSWERS and thought Food, Inc. focused on only the problems, not the solutions. It was too bad, I wanted it to be great!

Chia-Yi said...

I haven't seen Food, Inc. yet and I feel like I know a lot of what it is about. Recently I got to see Fresh the movie, which is a smaller budget production but has a more definitive storyline than it seems Food, Inc. has from what you have said. The movie doesn't go into much detail about the facts so you might find it wanting in that department, but it follows the story of the people growing food, so I think you might enjoy it separate from what you already know. There is an emphasis on fresh, locally produced food and the small farmer and urban farming movement.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

daharja: get a cat!

Not necessarily permanently - try borrowing one first. We had mice in our house and NOTHING worked, so we volunteered to take care of our friends' cat while they were out of town. She didn't catch any mice that we know of, but we haven't seen another one since she visited, maybe just because of the smell. (We got two cats of our own about 4 months later, which helps, obviously).

Maybe even scattering some used cat litter from a friend's cat would do the job? You can get biodegradable stuff - the kind we use is basically just sawdust.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Yikes! Thanks for including me in the list of such notables.

I'm working on coming up for a pseudonym, but am having a hard time coming up with something not offensive :)

Crunchy Chicken said...

Haysoos, that comment made no sense.

Alex said...

I agree with your point that the movie was geared toward people who were predisposed to agree with its points. As I personally have not finished Omnivore's Dilemma", I found certain parts of the film confusing at best.

However, I believe that the filmmakers' intention was good, and that they did bring up some interesting points I had not heard before. It certainly opened my eyes to the truths of factory farming, despite the fact that I needed to avert my eyes at certain points.

It was definitely worth a watch, though I most definitely will read Pollan's books to understand the film fully.