The converted were well and truly preached to at the Egyptian Sunday night with Food, Inc., a documentary by Robert Kenner that distills the excellent recent investigative of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, among others, into 90 minutes of potent and persuasive commentary on the American industrial farming system and its effect on pretty much everything. I’d wager that documentaries of this type always have an uphill battle trying to reach people who aren’t already pretty sympathetic to the cause, and I can attest that getting even a pedigreed elitist ivory tower hippie mama like me to read up can be a challenge—I’ve been trying to get through The Omnivore’s Dilemma for months, and even though I think Michael Pollan is an intoxicatingly good writer and am uplifted when I’m reading it by feeling more educated (and inspired by his awesome writing), I tend to feel daunted by the sense that no matter how educated I am I’m still going to be helpless in the face of that kind of industrial dominance. Especially right before bedtime.
Food, Inc. treads a fine line of that same sort. It draws correlations between factory farming and, among other things, skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, illegal immigration, union rights, political corruption, and e.coli, to name a few. Farmers being sued for reusing their own seeds and a mother who lost her 2-year-old son to a tainted hamburger provide human faces for the more general crimes illuminated by the film. So the filmmakers had to work pretty hard not to make the whole thing a total downer.
So they offer a few hopeful antidotes. First, they cram an impressive amount of information into their 90 minutes, which makes the time feel very well spent indeed. Second, they showcase an awesome, outspoken organic farmer (whose name, I’m sorry to say, I didn’t catch) who, unlike some corporate assholes we could name, proudly allows us to observe his farming practices. Third, they give Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan a lot of face time, and they manage to be extremely knowledgeable without sounding bitter and hopeless. And finally, they provide measured doses of empowering messages sprinkled throughout the various storylines. To me, the most inspiring homily was that though it can seem hopeless to try and attack an industry with such vast wealth and power, we did in fact succeed against the tobacco companies in many respects. Great point. Another good reminder was that though we feel powerless as consumers, in fact we vote every time we spend money on one thing rather than another. It’s a privilege, to be sure, to have dollars with which to vote, but I guess if you’re persuaded that it’s necessary (spoiler! I am), at least you can walk away from the theater feeling like you can do something.
NOTE If you’re interested, the film also has a website affiliated with takepart.com, which provides more information about what they think you can do: