Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blown Away and Scared or how Food, INC made me a food warrior

Image courtesy of
Magnolia Films
If you eat you need to see Food, Inc. Everyone living on this planet eats to survive. Food and food production is political, what you eat, how much you eat depends on social economies and where you fit into the structure. In case you haven’t noticed there is a revolution going on and it will not pass you by. Every time you make a purchase at the local grocery store, supermarket, market or farmers market you are making a statement with your choice. Food Inc is scary.

This movie took filmmaker Robert Kenner's more than six years to make. Six years of his life to show us what's wrong with our current food production and distribution systems. The question he’s asking us is how much do we know about the food we buy at local supermarkets and serve to our families? Let me give you some examples.

Tyson Foods scared poultry (chicken) farmers by refusing Kenner's crew access to film their chickens. These same poor chicken farmers are being taken advantage of by big food producers like Tyson by forcing them into debt. The farmers must purchase everything needed to build and supply the farms to these companies stringent regulations, most often the farmers must take out bank loans to do so. The problem is that they never make enough money to allow them to separate themselves from these companies and are shackled to them for years. They are forced to raise thousands of over-fed chickens in these factory farms. Called “fast growth birds” they are fed growth promoting antibiotics that produce birds whose bodies struggle to function and are on the brink of structural collapse. Ninety percent of chickens raised for meat have leg problems, bone disease, chronic pain and structural deformities. Why does this happen? Because of high demand for white breast meat of uniform size that facilitates ease of production and consumer expectations.

Pig producers whose processing plants are reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. During the fourth month of pregnancy sixty to seventy percent of female pigs in the US are kept in gestation crates. Metal stalls so small and narrow that the animals can’t turn or move more than a step forward or backward. Pig growers are even trying to isolate the stress gene so it can be removed from their DNA. Imagine, these animals could look forward to being abused but hey they won’t be stressed out!

Thousands of cattle, natural herbivores, raised in factory feedlots are being fed e-coli producing corn & soybean feed during the last few months of their lives. The process is called finishing. It makes their meat more tender. Manure from cattle raised in this way if used to fertilize crops without composting first vegetables can also become contaminated with e-coli. The 2006 spinach contamination in the US is a dramatic example of this type of crop contamination. All the while cattle on factory feedlots live out their short dismal lives standing in not only their own waste but that of thousands of other cattle.

Parents who can’t afford to feed themselves or their children anything other than cheap fast food because it is less expensive that fruit and vegetables. The kind of food that is rapidly producing a world of diabetics. In the US and Canada one in every three people born in 2000 will develop diabetes due to the food they eat.

Food Inc is about the illegal immigrants employed by large food processing companies who are deported on a schedule because the companies have made a deal with the government to deport workers instead of prosecuting the companies that hire them.

This is a world where the high demand of huge corporations has changed how our food is produced. McDonalds is the largest buyer of potatoes in the world. It’s not just about how the food you eat at McDonalds is made also impacts people. McDonalds changed how fast food restaurants operate by segmenting and automating tasks. Each employee is responsible for one single component of the composition of your burger thereby allowing them to pay workers less money and have an easily replaceable workforce.

Then there is Monsanto, the monarch of genetically engineered or genetically modified food. Monsanto soy bean seed is now almost the only soy bean seed grown in the US. Monsanto will sue farmers not growing its seeds if the wind blows seeds from another farm that is onto the one that is not. They sue even if they know they can’t win because in the end the poor farmer is made bankrupt. US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and many other high level members of the FDA are former lobbyists for top agricultural multinationals like Monsanto

However, the film is not all about despair. Kenner shows us how Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms shows us another way to do it. Salatin demonstrates what and how sustainable farming and husbandry is all about. In his book Everything I want to do is illegal Salatin tells us “it (Polyface Farms) would not exist if the USDA and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had their way”. But he also goes on to give advice in You Can Farm the benefit of his knowledge 50 years of farming experience on what will affect the success of a farming venture. You’ll want to eat his food!

We must consider the consequences of our food choices. Those of us who are aware of how close we are to the precipice of unsustainable food production need to be more proactive in our advocacy. We can’t keep preaching to the choir. We need to talk about and work with each other to implement better quality food for everyone. Perhaps we should take a cue from UK chef Jamie Oliver and his school lunch and pass it on programs. Teach one person to eat and cook good food so that they will then pass it on to another.

Long before Jamie Oliver initiated his school program in the UK, Pretty River Academy
in Collingwood Ontario launched a program called Special Lunch under the direction of Chef Eric Madden. Madden created and implemented, with the help of his then restaurant staff, a healthy, locally sourced three course lunches for the entire school. The school brought Chef Madden on full time in 2008 where he continues to create innovations in food learning. All students at Pretty River Academy, from kindergarten through grade twelve are not only eating healthy, nutritious tasty meals at lunch every day, they’re taking an active role in the preparation. By helping in the kitchen preparation these kids are also learning about math, geography, biology, ecology and sustainability.

It’s all about the choices each and every one of us make about what we buy and eat every day. Think about it. A society that treats plants and animals with cruelty and disrespect may soon come to view its citizens in the same way.


  1. Wow, thanks for this review! I have so many things about this film, I will check it out!!

  2. Cara, you can also read the companion book, entitled Food, Inc. How Industrial Food is Making us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer - And Wht Can you Do About It? The has 13 essays that explore further into the issues raised in the movie.