Film: “Food, Inc.”

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.

Food, Inc. premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre.

“Food, Inc.” Edmonton Premiere

I’ve been looking forward to the Edmonton premiere of Food, Inc. since I started reading about the buzz surrounding the movie at its June 12 premiere in New York (NYT review here). Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food fame narrates, so those who have read either of those books will likely already anticipate the film’s content and thesis. For those who aren’t familiar with his work, here is a synopsis of Food, Inc.:

“You are what you eat. It is a simple expression that bears scary implications as you watch the acclaimed documentary, Food, Inc. Director Robert Kenner draws upon the searing reportage of authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) to explore how modern developments in food production pose grave risks to our health and environment. These writers aren’t radicals or even vegetarians (Schlosser admits that his favourite meal is a hamburger and fries), but they are crusaders when it comes to exposing problems and naming offenders. There are stories of heartbreak and outrage, but the film carefully channels these emotions towards opportunities for activism. Watching Food, Inc. gives you a strong appetite for better meals.”

If you have been as eager to see the movie as I have been, you will also be excited to know that there is a special screening taking place on Wednesday, July 15 at 7pm at Empire City Centre Cinemas, and I have been provided with 5 double-guest passes by a company representing Alliance Films in Alberta to give away! Following the screening there will be a Q & A with a special guest panel featuring food experts, including Ron Berezan, The Urban Farmer.

If you are available and interested in attending, please leave a comment with a valid e-mail address below (in the e-mail address field, not the comment itself) by noon on July 12. I will randomly select five names and contact the winners by e-mail on Sunday evening.

Good luck!

Food, Inc.
Classification: PG (Mature Subject Matter)
Premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre