‘Food, Inc.’: Watch what you eat

June 8, 2009

“Food, Inc.” is a hard movie to enjoy.

 

Not that it’s not well-made. Just the opposite: It’s so convincingly compelling in its depiction of our industrialized food production that you’ll either stop eating altogether – or you’ll binge on fat, salt and sugar, despairing that, since we’re doomed anyway, you might as well enjoy yourself. A bucket of doughnuts and French fries ought to do the trick.

 

Working with writers Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation”) and Michael Pollan (“In Defense of Food”), director Robert Kenner hits all the high – or high-calorie – spots in his tour of what’s wrong with our food. There are so many points of entry that you hardly know where to start.

 

Let’s jump in with cheap corn – government-subsidized so farmers grow lots, other farmers and manufacturers can buy it cheaply and it becomes an integral part of everything we eat. It’s not just the high fructose corn syrup that’s so ubiquitously making us fat – it’s the corn-fed beef and chicken, raised on feed lots and in lightless chicken coops. Corn, it turns out, marbles the beef but also leads to production of the kind of E. coli bacteria in cows’ digestive tracts that, ever more frequently, hops into the food chain and sickens (and kills) us.

 

That’s not to mention the inhumane, unsanitary conditions in which the livestock is kept and slaughtered. Or the fact that the people running the agencies regulating food safety most recently have been plucked from the very industries they’re supposed to regulate (a favorite gambit of the late, unlamented Bush administration).

 

What is depressing is how tied together this all is, how seeming impossible to solve. So few companies control so much of the food production. So much of the food we eat has virtually all the nutrition processed out of it – and sugar and fat processed in – because it’s cheaper to do so.

 

Which has the ripple effect of causing obesity, particularly among the poor, for whom cheap crap is more affordable than fresh vegetables and fruit. Which leads to spikes in diabetes and increased pressure on an already overburdened healthcare system.

 

It’s a vicious circle, one that the food manufacturers ignore until a movie – such as “Super-Size Me” or this one – comes along to rouse public awareness and put pressure on the food companies themselves. Publicity from “Super-Size Me” was the only reason McDonald’s suddenly started offering healthier kids’ meals and other less sodium-and-fat-laden choices.

 

Meanwhile, the average American consumes more than 200 pounds of meat per year. It’s one of many frightening statistics in this eye-opening movie that should be required viewing for anyone who, well, eats.

 

But “Food, Inc.”’s bad news will keep people away from it for exactly that reason. Better to hide one’s head in the sand than face the depressing reality and try to change it.

 

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