Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Food, Inc.

"Food, Inc." is not my type of documentary, but I'm having a hard time figuring out why that matters. It fashions itself as an expose of the huge, mostly hidden mess that is the American food industry, and offers up an intelligent, if somewhat sprawling and incohesive argument that things need to change. It is basically a book on film: chapter breaks and talking head interviews of major food journalists (primarily Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan) weave through a hoard of topics -- the elimination of the individual farmer, the genetically altered food we regularly ingest, the toothless and self-serving USDA and FDA, and the government policies that have helped shape this factory-over-farm environment.

This book format makes sense, considering not only the range of information but also the fact that they released a companion piece to the film -- a book by the same name. After a relentless 94 minutes (really? it feels like 120) the film gives a brief run down of what you can do to change the system, and ends by directing you to its website,

Call me old fashioned, but I'm skeptical of any film that needs both a website and a book to get its whole point across. I'm not even sure if sections of the film would have entirely made sense if I had not already read 100 pages into Michael Pollan's own book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. The viewing experience is something like being dropped into a vast essay with no introductory paragraph, then having it speed-read to you, then being told that if you want to know exactly what to do about all of the awful things you just learned, you should look elsewhere.

Yet, despite my complaints, there is a certain charm held by a movie that can barely contain its own scope. I felt a slight glow of illumination as I explored my local independent markets yesterday morning, and instead of feeling helpless to change this vast network of mechanization and regulations, I instead feel as if I am slowly acruing the tools to defend myself and make the right choices. "Food, Inc." has left a strange kind of tanbility in my life, and I can't really ask for much more from a film. It feels like just the beginning of a greater education that I have only recently embarked on; one in which I can plant my own garden, buy locally, and cultivate my own little corner of a moderate revolt.

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