Food Inc- The Big Business of Food

Posted by Leah Bergman Saturday, November 14, 2009

You stand in the aisle trying to decide between peanut butter brands. Do you go for the cheaper price, or do you buy the peanut butter that the family thinks tastes better? Have you ever asked yourself a different question? Have you ever asked where that peanut butter grew, who grew it, how it was processed, and was the worker treated fairly that processed it? The film “Food Inc” by award winning film maker, Robert Kenner, explores these questions and more.

By delving into the source of food, this movie casts a new light onto the food industry and exposes how a few powerful companies have taken control of one of our basic needs, food. “You look at the labels and you see farmer this, farmer that. It’s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history.” Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation.” The director takes us on a riveting journey of big business and how the Norman Rockwell paintings we associate with a farm is not representative of modern food processing. The narrator states, “There is this deliberate veil, this curtain that’s drawn between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.”

One of the first segments depicts how the poultry and beef industries have become huge factories concerned with the bottom line. The film shows chickens, which usually mature in over 70 days, maturing in a little more than a month. These sickly creatures can barely walk because of the combination of the quicker maturation period and their reengineered, bigger breasts have made their bones and organs weak. They are overcrowded with feces everywhere and never see the light of day. To combat the sickness caused by poor living conditions, one of the farmers discusses the use of antibiotics. The conditions of the cows are similar. One scene shows how the cows stand knee high in feces all day, and they are slaughtered with filthy dung covering their coats. This along with how they are being fed was attributed to the large increase in e-coli outbreaks. “Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They’re designed by evolution to eat grass. And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly … The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency. But each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed eighty percent of the E. coli in their gut.” Said Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” Kenner said, “Most American consumers think that we are being protected. But that is not the case. Right now the USDA does not have the authority to shut down a plant that is producing contaminated meat. The FDA and the USDA have had their inspectors cut back. And it’s for these companies now to self-police, and what we’ve found is, when there’s a financial interest involved, these companies would rather make the money and be sued than correct it.”

The film also discusses how government subsidies of agriculture has caused unhealthy, processed foods to be cheaper then fresh fruits and vegetables affecting the poor segments of the population the hardest. One scene shows a family debating between buying chips, which were cheaper, or fruit. “All those snack food calories are the ones that come from the commodity crops, from the wheat, from the corn, and from the soybeans. By making those calories really cheap, it’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.”

Finally, it is shown how the subsidizing of corn has not only affected the American consumer, but also the foreign farmer. Because U.S. corn is sold cheaper than it can be made, foreign farmers cannot compete and have been put out of business. This is the case for many Mexican farmers. In response, they come illegally to the country. “But what’s happened is that we’ve decided that it’s no longer in the best interests of this country to have them here. But yet, these companies still need these people and they’re desperate, so they work out deals where they can have a few people arrested at a certain time so it doesn’t affect production,” said Kenner. He went on to say, “But it affects people’s lives. And these people are being deported, put in jail and sent away, but yet, the companies can go on and it really doesn’t affect their assembly line. And what happens is that they are replaced by other, desperate immigrant groups.”

Although the movie covers unsettling topics, it ends on a high note with scenarios on how consumers have made a difference. “Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting.”– Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm.

“Food Inc” uncovers the truth about the food industry. This is a “must see” film that sheds light on a country wide epidemic. After all, if what you eat isn’t healthy, how can you be? Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, said it best, “Imagine what it would be if, as a national policy, we said we would be only successful if we had fewer people going to the hospital next year than last year? The idea then would be to have such nutritionally dense, unadulterated food that people who ate it actually felt better, had more energy and weren’t sick as much … now, see, that’s a noble goal.”

(This film is now available on DVD)

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