Likely to be one of the most important documentaries of the past decade, Food Inc is a terrifying tale of how the food we consume is produced. From the seed and the pesticide that garnishes it, to the crop, to the animal, the slaughterhouse and the grocery store shelf. Food Inc. is not for the faint of heart or for anyone with a full stomach for that matter. Think “Supersize Me” but much more comprehensive in scale and is less of a death-defying stunt and more of a factual documentation of what it is that we eat, and how the people creating that food don’t want us to know how it’s made.
The film is made up of various chapters that move alongside the food production chain and attempts to pull back the veil of the food industry in America. And while the film is completely America-centric, its only shortcoming may be its understating of just how what is created in the US affects that rest of the world that is not only a consumer, but a follower of its production models.
Food Inc. tells the story strictly from the side of farmers, experts, environmentalists and experts, which is a bias that can largely be blamed on the lack of response from all the congolmerates and multinationals who refused to talk to the filmmakers. The result is a terrifying depiction of what we eat and the even more horrific events that go in to that food being produced. It even attempts to break our illusions of farmers and valleys that marketing and pretty packaging has sold us, to make us truly understand that modern food is not made on a farm by a man in a cowboy hat, but in large-scale, manufacturing plants that slaughter thousands of animals a day, or produce endless amounts of corn. That’s right. Corn. You might think Food Inc. is one of those films designed to convince people to stop eating meat, but in one scene, an animated breakdown of the products that use some form of corn-derived product is equally eye-opening. Everything from Coca Cola, ketchup, jams and syrup, to batteries, diapers, charcol and Motrin.
What is perhaps even more fascinating is the films behind-the-scenes look at how the major food producers control the status quo in a way that would put the tobacco industries fight to shame. From around four companies that control 80% of the food market in the US, to their ability to lobby for laws and policies that make what they do better and easier. Even worse, these companies, with their legions of lawyers, are at times prepared to sue farmers who resist them even if they risk losing the case: just to prove a point. Moreover, how these companies consolidate power and maintain it, is just equally fascinating to watch. The idea is to have every farmer in America work for you under contract, while keeping them in constant debt in order to keep them in constant check. Chicken farmers are given annual requirements to purchase new equipment and make new upgrades in order to keep their contract, the result of which is another bank loan and another debt. As the film states, a typical grower with two chicken houses has borrowed over $500,000 to meet the constant upgrades, but earns around $18,000 a year.
Food Inc may not change the way you eat, but it will remind you that what you eat, be it a cheeseburger from a fast food restaurant or a tomato from the grocery, is produced through a process that is massive and beyond our wildest imaginations. A process that ranges from the farmer to the corporation to a political and judicial system that is designed to favor the status quo. While this is not a spoiler in any way, the film does end on a positive note during its closing credits: a written message appears on the screen to remind us that with every bite we eat, we are having a say in what it is we eat and how its produced.