A couple months ago, Disney released Disney’s Earth, which was basically the BBC series “Planet Earth” repackaged for stupid children who like baby ducks falling in slow motion. It wasn’t new footage, it wasn’t even extra footage. It was just animals with the soothing sounds of nature enthusiast Darth Earl Jones, and another excuse to show an elephant getting fucked up by a pride of lions. Food, Inc., a documentary by Robert Kenner, does essentially the same thing. It’s a mash up of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, featuring blurbs from both food fighters, wrapped up with the same arguments we’ve been hearing. Factory farming is bad, the government doesn’t do anything about it, fast food makes you fat and deaderer. It lauds organic foods, local farming and seasonal menus. The big name food production companies still aren’t talking to men with cameras, so we don’t get anything new on that front. It’s still a bunch of hippies telling us corn’s the devil, high fructose corn syrup will fuck your mother, and we all need to run tell it on the Hill to our congressmen, because they represent the people’s best interest. At this point, you either know this, or you don’t give a shit. I say, can’t it be both?
There’s a moment in the film that sums up the situation perfectly. A mother goes to her congresswoman and tells her the story of how her two-year-old son died from tainted meat. On the way, the two women get lost in the building. Finally, they arrive. We get shots of the baby boy playing in the water, eating at a picnic table, voiced over by the mother telling a gut-wrenching tale. At the end, the congresswoman hugs the mother and tells her that if they have a hearing, she wants her to tell her tale. And they leave. With nothing changed. It’s all a bunch of pats on the back and hugging and talking with nothing actually being done. This same mother is not allowed to go on camera and publicly state that she no longer eats hamburgers because her toddler died from “potentially tainted meat” because the meat companies can sue her. But she’s probably being paranoid. Right, Oprah?
I know I sound like I’m being extremely cynical, but I don’t see the point in showing us more footage of the vast cattle factories and hidden camera shots of the poor conditions in slaughterhouses. We understand our meat products are bad. We know. Change has already been made. When Wal-Mart decided to refuse to sell dairy products that used bovine growth hormone and all the major food production companies went out to snatch up organic labels, we’re moving in the right direction. We know we should all be planting gardens and shopping at farmer’s markets. We know. Dammit, we know. Tell us what we already know isn’t educating, it’s catechizing.
The problem is the rest of the country. Most people don’t have the time, inclination, or money to purchase healthy foods. They know they should be eating veggies instead of Fritos and chili pie, but they just don’t give a damn. Taking a book and turning it into a movie that’s only playing in limited theaters where the hippies already know this stuff isn’t going to make them aware of the problem. Food, Inc. is preaching to the choir, and it’s the same goddamn sermon, which is why people aren’t bothering going to the church anymore.
The nicest thing I can say for Kenner is that he isn’t attacking the big market organics like Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. Granted, most “organic” foods aren’t really organic, and they aren’t the best option. But to solve the problem, we need to take small steps. Not everyone in the country is going to be able to purchase grass-fed beef from local farms. But if people vote with their dollars not to buy stuff that was processed in corporate factories or that was fed growth hormones, the companies will find other ways to process the meat. We should have proper labeling on our foods, telling us where the foods came from, whether that’s another country or from the meat of cloned animals.
The system is screwed up, and it needs to be changed, but making a documentary isn’t going to get the word out to the people who need to hear it. Food, Inc. is that warm smug self-satisfaction that comes with having a Trader Joe’s reuseable bag full of five dollar tomatoes. It’s that pat on the back and wink that hipsters pushing strollers around farmer’s markets buying four dollar cartons of eggs to give to each other. It’s a good message, but we’ve heard it all before. From the very guys you’re filming. So shut up or blow up a Wendy’s already. Or go to www.takepart.com/foodinc to find out what you can do to change. Or keep eating fat, fatty.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.