Wednesday, June 23 at 7:30 pm
by Robert Kenner
This documentary about food is one of the scariest films of last year. It lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer. And nothing says horror like one of those tubs of artificially buttered, in-organic popcorn at the concession stand. The film is an informative, infuriating, unappetizing education about the Big Business of feeding, or, politically speaking, force-feeding, Americans all the fast food that multinational corporate money can buy. It’s is a horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious, and the hungry. It has a cheery palette but marches straight into the dark side of cutthroat, sadistic agribusiness, corporatized meat, and the greedy manipulation of both genetics and the law. The artifice of the film’s aesthetic is always subtly emphasizing the artificiality of the food. But there are four embodiments of conscience in the film, including the filmmaker Robert Kenner: Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, and Joel Salatin. The film charts how and why the villains not only outnumber mighty heroes like these, but also how and why they outbluff, outmuscle, and outspend all their opponents by billions of often government-subsidized dollars.
Divided into chapters dedicated to points along the commercial food chain, the movie looks at animal abuse in industrial food production — but its main focus is on the human cost. It’s a cost visible in the rounded bodies of a poor family that eats cheap but filling fast-food burgers for breakfast and in the faces of farmers too frightened to go on record about Monsanto.
There’s something horribly wrong with a system in which a bag of chips costs less than a bag of carrots. Corn is the vegetable-as-villain in this film which builds on the work of nutritionists, journalists, activists, and authors like Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan to show how multinationals have taken over the production of almost all food. Corn is kept at unrealistically low prices by the government; is fed to animals that haven’t evolved to eat it (such as the cow); causes them to develop maladies that must be treated with antibiotics (which are passed on to consumers); and has led to the mutation of new strains of the E.coli virus, which sickens tens of thousands each year.
Big Agribusiness, just like Big Oil, runs the very regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect us, the consumers. The film delves into the case of Monsanto, which has monopolized the growing of corn by patenting the biology inside it — and has been allowed to litigate against insurgent farmers through court decisions rendered by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a onetime Monsanto lawyer. The whole system, the film says, is fixed.
But then Joel Salatin arrives on the scene to throw some natural light onto the proceedings and illuminate just what can be done to salvage agriculture and our digestive systems. Disturbing as it is, this film doesn’t present a doomsday scenario. People can make a difference, it says — look what happened to Big Tobacco.
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