Mack and I had the chance to attend an advance screening of Food, Inc. at the newly-overhauled Empire City Centre Cinemas on Wednesday night (the theatres look great by the way – seats where the springs aren’t loose, plus stadium-style seating!). A nearly full house took in director Robert Kenner’s look at the pitfalls of the industrial system of agriculture and its ramifications on an unsuspecting public, including obesity, food safety and environmental degradation.
Anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation will not find anything surprising in the movie, as Pollan and Schlosser act as the narrative backbone for Food, Inc. However, it is worth seeing for the inglorious visuals alone – the overhead shots of CAFOs, the dire conditions in claustrophobic chicken houses, and the assembly lines of mechanized meat factory workers.
On one hand, the scope of the film is admirable to encourage awareness of issues on a grand scale. But touching on everything from corn to tainted meat to Monsanto’s seed monopoly meant the film wasn’t as coherent as it could have been. In addition, several tangential storylines seemed unnecessary to me, such as the raids of illegal immigrants and the family struggling to feed itself well on a low-income. That time could have easily been spent providing more detail on some of the more central material.
Someone like Mack, who watched the movie with further distance from the subject than me, was hungry for facts, and commented that like other documentaries focused on getting a rise out of the audience, it played too much to the viewer’s emotion. He wished for more balance of fact and reason. Mack did really like the piece on the Stonyfield Farms CEO working with Wal-Mart – though some might frown at that partnership, it does make some sense to take organics mainstream, especially if it means reducing growth of the alternative.
My biggest criticism of the movie (echoed by Ron Berezan during the Q & A following the screening) was the lack of explicit actions empowered consumers could take. Particularly because the film was billed as containing some “opportunities for activism”, the lines of black-screen text suggestions were put together as seeming afterthoughts. Why didn’t they show consumers making deliberate choices at local farmers’ markets or growing their own food, and end with a resonating vision of what’s possible? While it’s true that the movie is just a catalyst, and that further education would have to follow, listing a website address before the credits just seems like a cop-out.
At the end of the day, I don’t know if this film will reach the wide audience that it should, but the fact that it is getting attention from the mainstream media is a positive step.