American agriculture has in many respects been the envy of the world. U.S. agri-business consistently produces more food on less land and at cheaper cost than the farmers of any other nation. What could possibly be wrong with that? According to the growing ranks of organic farmers, concerned consumers and "slow-food" activists cited in Food, Inc., the answer is "plenty."
Robert Kenner's shockingly informative documentary Food, Inc. airs Wednesday, April 21 at 8 p.m. on KUED as part of the KUED Earth Day Programming. Nominated for Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, the film evaluates the problems facing American agriculture - sick animals, environmental degradation, tainted foods, obesity, diabetes and other health issues are the more obvious problems of a highly mechanized and centralized agri-buisness that touts low costs and high production as the supreme value in food production.
Less obvious, according to Food, Inc., is the powerful group of food producers, who set the conditions under which farmers and food workers operate, in order to maximize profits. The industry also maintains a revolving door of employment for government regulators and legislators to protect its power. Then there is the disconnect - propagated in part by the millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by the industry - between the average American and the foods consumed.
For all the dazzling technological innovations of American food production, there are many people who would ask, "But is it food?" The film questions whether the industrial system really produces the nutritious, health- and life-sustaining stuff we call food.
Filmmaker Kenner marshals mountains of data, vérité visits to production sites and footage of meat-packing operations secretly shot by workers, plus eye-opening testimony from farmers, workers, consumers' advocates and the few industry people willing to talk in their own defense.
Food, Inc. also features the on-and off-screen guidance of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and such practitioners of organic, sustainable farming as Joel Salatin of Virginia's Polyface Farms, to warn that the nutritional value of American food products is increasingly in doubt. More alarming, many of these products, including processed foods, fresh meat and produce, pose real dangers to public health and safety.
The Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield companies - whose business practices are examined in Food, Inc. - all declined to tell their side of the story to the filmmakers. These four companies, who constitute a huge share of the American food production market, also use their economic clout to discourage farmers and workers from showing their operations or speaking about their experiences, according to the film.
Food, Inc. also penetrates the industry's marketing schemes - family farm images, hyper-perfect food photos, health claims and an array of brands that lead back to the same few producers and, in the case of processed foods, to the same few ingredients. The filmmakers carefully craft a fast-paced narrative that is informative and moving.
The often grim toll of animal cruelties, human sickness and economic pressures examined in the film, Food, Inc. is driven by the visions of the activists and alternative businesses who lead the movement to make American food nutritious and reliably safe.
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