Monday, June 22, 2009

Food Inc.

Saturday started out as another rainy day in DC, so I met up with a group of friends to see a matinee showing of Food Inc. I went into the movie with high expectations, especially since many of my heroes, Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin among them, are the "stars".

The movie was fantastic. It was well organized and easy to understand. The filmmaker, Robert Kenner, did an excellent job presenting complicated and interconnected concepts. Even after presenting the horrors of the current industrialized food system, Kenner was able to change the tone at the end to empower consumers to make new choices for themselves and their families and change the food system. The movie tells us: "You can vote to change the system, three times a day.”

The presentation of Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and his growing business with Walmart was spun to exemplify how consumer choice can help power change in the food system. And, although there was a segment on workers' rights in the film (as it relates to big agribusiness and food processing plants), Kenner was able to avoid a trap that most documentaries fall into... trying to take on too much. It is hard to mention Walmart in a film that advocates for workers' rights without chasing Walmart down the rabbit hole as well. This was just one example of how Food Inc. was successful in keeping the viewer on target.

For those of us who have read Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, the movie does not cover any new material. You do realize, however, how similar Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan look when Pollan takes off his glasses.

I think that the movie is perfect for a broad audience and would encourage all to go see it (although it is a hard sell for those non-foodies out there). Also, check out the website, which has many resources and some ideas about how to get involved (including a great book list).

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in the NY Times on Sunday titled, Lettuce from the Garden, With Worms, inspired by the movie. It is definitely worth reading if you haven't. Kristoff also followed this article up with a post on his blog titled Eating Up Food Inc in which he goes on a fact finding mission about the "fact" mentioned in the movie that the number of FDA food safety inspections had fallen from 50,000 in 1972 to 9,164 in 2006. He finds that while the number of inspections has fallen, these "exact" numbers are not exactly accurate. This small issue, to me, does not discredit the movie in the slightest but does point to how difficult it is to get good, accurate information regarding some of these issues.

There are many great reviews of the movie worth checking out and lots of robust discussion. But my recommendation is to go and see it for yourself. Also, try to bring a friend who hasn't heard of Michael Pollan. While I'm happy I was able to see the movie with my foodie friends, it really is preaching to the converted for us. Proving to us what we already know. I'm hoping to turn at least one new person on to this movie before it leaves the big screen for DVD (and maybe sending the DVD out for the holidays).

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