Food, Inc
Go ahead, just pick one and we’ll barbecue.


Golden Mug

NOMINEE:
Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 06/12/2009
Director: Robert Kenner
Featuring Interviews with: Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser

Deciding what foods to consume is becoming a more and more confusing prospect these days, what with the whole organic movement, the proliferation of vegetarians and vegans, the umpteen diet fads that require a doctorate in nuclear physics to keep all the rules straight and the ever changing advertisements and FDA rulings regarding what oils are good, what foods are bad and what goes into a daily recommended portion. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Adding to the consumers’ bewilderment is where all this bounty is coming from. It used to be that you bought items that were fresh and local, coming straight from the farmer/rancher near town. As the need/desire for greater diversity grew, so did the idea of mass production and distribution. Over a very short period of time (really the last 50 or 60 years), it has come to pass that a small handful of companies control nearly every aspect of the foods we buy at the grocery store and order from the drive-thru.

Theatrically released this last summer and now available on DVD, “Food, Inc.” explores this development and looks to determine whether this is doing more harm than good, putting all of the eggs in one basket so to speak. While it may be well and good to provide consistency and increase yields, what kind of health concerns are raised, what does it do to the small farmer who can no longer compete and does the overt cost benefit to the end user hide a more dangerous, albeit unintended change in our diet?

Director Robert Kenner, along with the help of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (both of whom have written books on the subject), breaks down the major segments of the food production and distribution network in an attempt to answer these questions. He also interviews average families and the farmers and ranchers caught in the middle. A telling sign about the culpability of the large conglomerates is their universal unwillingness to go on record for the camera … but that comes as no surprise at this point considering the state of today’s legal and political system.

Each of the chapters in the film illuminate concerns facing us today and I found that a decent amount of new information was presented. This is important because there have been other attempts to shed light on this issue and even if you’ve been careful to see each of those documentaries/films, don’t think that “Food, Inc.” is simply a rehashing of those items. Some things may be a little redundant but Kenner tries to approach it all from the ground up and it helps to frame everything in terms that we can understand.

Still, there are some problems with the documentary which keep it from reaching too high on my ratings scale. First and foremost, as intellectually stimulating as the information was at most times, I found myself losing interest two-thirds of the way through because the material is rather dry. There are attempts to incorporate produced material to shake up the standard interview film techniques and these help but not enough. Maybe if some more humor could have been interjected, even if it was as cliché as bringing along a comedic actor, then the monotony of spewing facts and sad tales of the individual being legally crushed by the system wouldn’t have been quite so numbing.

And while I appreciate that the film does eventually give the audience tips and ideas about how to change the way in which food information is given to us and how to make healthier choices, I wish it hadn’t been all compressed into the closing credits. Not that it felt exactly like an afterthought but it might have been more effective to bring up reminders of what the average person could do in their everyday lives during each of the segments. Then, the closing sets of text that assault the audience like a pop quiz at the end could have been more of a reminder than a plea for help.

Still, “Food, Inc.” does a lot of good investigative work into the control that a tiny few companies have over the worldwide food market and so I’ll give Robert Kenner and his team a 3.5 out of 5. It’s not as entertaining as something like “Bowling for Columbine” or even this year’s “The September Issue” but anyone interested in the subject will appreciate the effort.