I came late to the Food, Inc. party. Released in 2008, I didn’t get around to watching it until 2012. Better late than never, right?If you haven’t seen this documentary, I recommend watching it. It isn’t the most exciting movie you’ll watch this year, but it might be the most informative. It provides a great introduction to our modern industrial food system and the problems associated with it.
It packs a lot of information into a 2 hour movie, touching on everything from the rise of fast food to industrial meat production and commodity corn to government food policy to the organic movement and more. This is both good and bad. It is a great overview for someone who doesn’t know a lot about our food systems (like me when I first watched it), but it also feels a bit disjointed at times, jumping from topic to topic with less-than-seamless transitions. For those who are already informed on food politics, it can be frustrating because you know there is so much that is being let unsaid on each topic. That was how I felt rewatching it today. The movie would close out a topic and I would think “But what about…?!?” Where it spends 20 minutes on corn production, others have made entire documentaries (like King Corn). The same applies to Monsanto and GMOs, the hidden costs of cheap food, and the unconscionable practices of the meat industry.
What Food, Inc. does well is to get the conversation started. It gets people thinking and asking questions and that is the best place to start. It perfectly blends raw facts and data with the personal and emotional side of food. You hear about how modern full-grown chickens are twice as large as they were 50 years ago and that they reach slaughter weight in half the time (40 days versus 3 months). Then you meet Carole, a contract grower for Purdue who has developed a resistance to all antibiotics because she has been exposed to so much in dealing with her chickens. They give you the numbers regarding e.coli outbreaks and then tell you about Kevin, a sweet little boy who died after contracting drug-resistant e.coli from a hamburger. You meet a family faced who has to choose between eating healthy food or the father’s diabetes medicine.
I took a lot of notes when I watched it today and here are some points that stuck out to me:
- The average grocery store carries 47,000 products. A handful of companies (Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, General Mills, etc.) produce most of our food and they use just a few ingredients to do so (corn and soy and all their derivatives). The variety is something of an illusion.
- Regardless of the marketing ploys, factories and laboratories produce most of our food, not farmers.
- In 1970, the top 5 beef packers controlled 25% of the industry; in 2008, the top 4 controlled 80%. Similar trends can be seen in the pork and chicken industries.
- Applying the assembly line mentality to the food industry leads to the mistreatment of animals and the unhealthy view that workers are nothing more than a disposable commodity.
- Our food may be cheap, but we pay for it in other areas – health care, taxes/subsidies, and environmental costs.
- The average meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to supermarket.
We have a lot of problems in our food system and they won’t be solved quickly or easily. Food, Inc. acknowledges that fact. But it also advocates that we not make the perfect the enemy of the good. It simply encourages people to vote with their wallets by buying the best food their budget will allow and to focus on locally-sourced, unprocessed foods. It’s advice we all could benefit from following.