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Courtesy of Participant Media

Food, Inc.

Hard-hitting documentary sets out to empower us as consumers

By Chantal Braganza

Food, Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner
(Participant Media) 

Be sure to enjoy your last meal before watching Food, Inc. It may be a little while before you want to dine again.

In step with the conscious eating movement, co-producers Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser have produced a documentary that reveals some shocking facts about the industry that keeps us fed. Did you know, for example, that each year 76 million Americans are sickened by a food-borne illness, that the average product in your supermarket bears a 1,500-mile travel tag or that migrant workers are regularly exploited by the meat-packing industry?

Fans of Fast Food Nation, Schlosser’s bestseller on the American fast-food industry, or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma will be familiar with a lot of the issues explored in this hard-hitting documentary. In a lot of ways, it’s like watching a book turned into a movie. On the negative side, the documentary covers too much material to look at any one issue in depth, and both Schlosser and Pollan figure a little too prominently for balance of opinion.

However, the evidence they present benefits from the advantage of film. Factory-farmed chickens, for example, are all the more disturbing when you see how they’re produced: thousands of fat white birds crammed together in windowless huts, stepping in their own feces and over the bodies of their fellow dead. Because they have been genetically modified to grow in half the natural time and gain twice the weight, their bone structures are weak, often resulting in broken legs. “But,” as one farmer asks, “if you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you can grow in three months?”

From factory farming to public health issues to the real cost behind cheap food, Food, Inc. is at times hard to watch because often it’s us, the viewers and consumers, who are the problem. “The average consumer does not feel very powerful, but it’s the exact opposite,” says Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Yogurt and one of the sources interviewed in the film. “When we run an item past the scanner at the supermarket, we’re voting.” 

Food, Inc. isn’t about guilt-tripping viewers into changing their diet completely. Rather, it sets out to inform and empower us as consumers, which is something entirely more palatable.

Author's photo
Chantal Braganza is a writer and editor in Toronto. Her blog posts will appear every second Friday of the month.
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