Food Inc. is probably one of the most highly regarded films that I have watched so far this summer, scoring an impressive 96% on RT and a 90 on Metacritic. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said it takes 100% of it’s cues from An Inconvenient Truth (2006), aggressively forwarding a platform against an unpopular issue at the expense of big business, which never seems to learn that remaining silent on an issue is the worst possible decision.
The approach for all so called documentary films that adopt this rhetorical strategy is the same. You will be bombarded with images of human/animal/nature suffering: this makes you emotionally engaged with the issue (in Food Inc. a particularly disturbing image of yellow chicks being moved through a factory on a conveyor belt, getting their wings mechanically clipped, then being thrown down a metal chute by a worker).
Once you’re emotionally engaged, the film will hit you with some expert opinions that are framed in such a way that they seem irrefutable, or, at the very least, highly disturbing and suspicious: this puts you on the side of the filmmakers since no logically thinking person would hold the opposite opinion.
Along the way, industry will be asked to comment, but will likely refuse. Another possibility: the filmmaker will toss in a “punching bag” or “straw man” who is set up as the figurehead for the opposition only to be immediately knocked down (see Charlton Heston’s interview in Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002)).
The last step is to provide an outlet for the viewers to effect a change by listing steps that you, the consumer, can take to reverse the damage. Food Inc. does this by giving food procurement tips, e.g. “go buy from your local farmer.”
The film exposes a problem with the way food is produced and highlights our collective ignorance of the ingredients in the food we eat. The most salient point is probably that we have been buying food for much cheaper than it should be, and the losers are the undocumented workers who work in the meat assembly lines and factory farms as well as the local growers who are kept in wage slavery by the major corporations that have a stranglehold on food production in our country. I was sickened when someone suggested that immigration officials deport only a quota of unlucky individuals in the shanty town around a food factory since the large food corporation that employs them puts pressure on the government not to deplete their workforce; basically it’s a quid pro quo which allows the government to save face at the expense of the workers they’re deporting. Disgusting.
However, at the same time, I’m angry at films like this for showing me something that I have very little power to change. “Go buy from your local farmer.” What a revelation! Unfortunately, I can’t afford to spend $10/lb. on meat. Tell someone living below the poverty line that they should buy organic, small-farm grown vegetables for twice the price of corporately grown produce. The film addresses these problems, but provides no realistic outlets for change. At least now I can feel terrible every time I go to the grocery store and buy something, which I guess I should have felt for a long time now. It’s doubly bad when I drive there. Thanks a lot.
The film intimates that industry is wrong, but stops short of denouncing capitalism as the beast which created the food corporations. I’ll give the filmmakers credit for even going as far as they did. It’s definitely worth watching if you want to feel bad about eating anything you can buy in your local supermarket, but if you enjoy living in the Matrix, I would recommend avoiding this film.
8/10: Even this review probably contains some corn products
Interesting note: Magnolia Pictures released this film, and is owned in part by Mark Cuban, who also owns the Dallas Mavericks.