“You’ll never look at dinner the same way again,” promises the movie poster for Food, Inc. Well, I saw it on Saturday night, and let me tell you — in the immediate aftermath, I never planned on eating dinner again. That might be an exaggeration, but it’s close enough. The movie is brutal. One of my friends cried throughout the entire thing. And not in the way you cry when Mufasa is run over by a herd of stampeeding wildebeests, but deep down you know it’s just a cartoon, so the crying is kind of cathartic and lovely in its own way. No, no. This was the kind of crying (I shed a few tears here and there myself), when you’re confronted with graphic image after graphic image of feedlots, soundbites of pigs squealing on their way to slaughter, plus helpless illegal immigrants, bankrupt farmers, and a dead child (from e. coli poisoning), to boot. And none of it is Disney animation.
You know the food revolution has really taken off when a movie like Food, Inc. can get made and distributed. And that’s a good thing, and it’s a good movie — an important movie, and an informative movie. It’s easy to get confused about what’s going on with our food supply, and reading the many many books on the subject helps gather more information, but doesn’t necessarily clear things up. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and the sound of those pigs squealing may in fact be worth a thousand pictures.
By the end of Food, Inc., I had a much clearer understanding of the problems with the industrial food supply. Not much of the information was new to me, but the way it was synthesized — in one ninety-minute chunk — was really helpful in seeing the bigger picture of America’s food problems. (The one new piece of the puzzle, which I thought was a really interesting and new contribution to the discussion, was a segment on the workers in slaughterhouses, and their terrible conditions.)
But here’s the thing: the message of the movie — or at least the message I took — is one of doom and gloom. I left it feeling like I could never eat a single thing that wasn’t organic and local ever again, and while that is a worthy goal that I fully support, it isn’t a particularly realistic one for me, and certainly isn’t for plenty of Americans (including NYTimes food columnist Pete Wells). As is the complaint with so many of these food-related screeds, Food, Inc. gave me a perfectly clear view of all the problems with what I was eating, and a much murkier idea of what I was supposed to do to help.
This feeling of paralysis is not good. Statements like “You can make a difference with every bite” (one of the lines that flashed across the screen at the end of the film) are poetic, but not good. What is good is the Food, Inc. web site. This may actually be the first time I’ve gone to a movie’s web site, and it is a good one. It is specific about solutions and taking action in all the ways the movie was not, particularly its really helpful — and really important — section on school lunch, a topic that wasn’t covered particularly thoroughly in the movie.
So, I’d conclude: Go see Food, Inc. It is an important and useful look at all the problems facing our food system. Then, don’t panic. Look at the web site and read the 10 simple things you can do (with a grain of salt — they are not all so simple). The simplest thing you can do is sign the petition supporting changes to school lunch (more on this in coming weeks), which is actually an incredibly important and incredibly easy thing to do (unlike, say, #10 on the list: “Demand job protections for farm workers and food processors, ensuring fair wages and other protections” — well that sounds just peachy, how am I supposed to do that?).
And then, I am told, your final move should be seeing the movie Fresh, which a friend said is the perfect complement to Food, Inc. — uplifting, inspiring…but unfortunately only viewable in community screenings.
Two movies about the food movement at the same time? That’s uplifting and inspiring in and of itself.