All of the fascinating and frightening details about the way our food is prepared prior to finding its way into our supermarkets is expertly and efficiently conveyed in producer-director Robert Kenner’s new documentary “Food, Inc.” Some highlights: Diabetes, E. coli, meat ripened with Ethylene gas, chickens designed to grow so fast that their internal organs cannot keep up, manure getting into meat, hamburger meat treated with ammonia to kill E. coli, legislation making it illegal to criticize the meat industry (to the point where even Oprah was sued for such criticism…she won), former food executives controlling the FDA and USDA, financially strapped farmers who cannot afford to make waves, too much corn and the disconnection from an act as intimate as eating all come together in “Food, Inc.”
“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…” explains Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” who is featured in “Food, Inc.” along with investigative author Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation). It all started with McDonald’s. The McDonald brothers came up with the idea of breaking their burger production down into simple steps that could be easily followed by low-wage, unskilled, replaceable employees. Even if you do not eat at McDonald’s, their mechanized techniques affect the food we eat today. Big corporations bus in cheap labor from Mexico. When these illegal immigrants are caught they are sent back to Mexico with no legal action taken against the companies that brought them in. The companies just bring in more, keeping costs low.
“Food, Inc. reveals that supermarket images used to sell food: a farmhouse, grass and picket fence are false. The reality is that meat is processed by huge multi-national corporations. The vast assortment of foods we see in a supermarket, as many as 47,000 varities, covers up the fact that only a handful of companies, having nothing to do with farm life, control all the food.
Another problem is corn, which is cheap because it is subsidized by the U.S. government. Corn is fed to cows because it is low cost and will make the cattle fatter faster and keep the cost of meat low. There’s just one problem. Cows are designed to eat grass, not corn. The ingestion of corn has resulted in the presence of new strains of the E. coli virus. One organic farmer points out that allowing cattle to eat grass for just five days would eliminate 80% of E. coli, but the powers that be prefer anti-biotics. In addition the cattle are kept in crowded conditions requiring them to stand in their own manure, which is then processed along with the cattle when they are slaughtered.
Another side effect of corn is diabetes. Corn is used to make many kinds of low cost junk food. One poverty stricken family can only afford to eat from the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. They explain that the dollar hamburger is cheaper than buying broccoli and that they sometimes have to choose between the cost of their father’s diabetes medication and buying vegetables.
“Food, Inc.” is a well made, accessible expose that shows, like a falling row of dominoes, how poorly thought out actions aimed at the bottom line can have far reaching, harrowing consequences.
“Food, Inc.” is now playing at Film Forum.