The Oscar ‘Best Documentary’ nominated “Food Inc.” blames the fast food industry for having created a sick food production industry in the United States of America, which exploits poor workers, treats its animals inhumanely, causes global warming, and makes its consumers sick or kills them! The movie makers say they are “hungry for change”! (‘The Cove’ won the Oscar in this category)
Food Inc. is not for the squeamish, and is likely to make one vow to never buy any products from a standard supermarket (other than Woolworths, and even then one is not sure how their suppliers produce their foods) again, to only buy organic foods, where possible, to pay more for good quality food, and to NEVER go near a fast food outlet again.
Robert Renner is the movie director and co-writer of the script, and used the work of investigative ‘Fast Food Nation’ reporter Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan, author of ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’, to highlight the problems in the USA food industry.
The movie starts with the supermarket shelves overflowing with brands that give the farm-like feel in their logo’s and pack designs (the “Farmer Brown”-type treatment), but this seems to be a fraudulent depiction of the production of meat products, 80 % of which is in the hands of 4 or 5 production and packaging companies slaughtering 10 billion animals annually. Chicken production has been altered over time, and a chicken is ready for slaughter in 45 days, compared to double that time in the past, and has bigger breasts to meet market demands. The big meat producers buy up the farmer’s production, and encourage the farmers to expand the size of their operation all the time, thereby pushing the farmers to get into debt with their banks. This gives the meat companies power over their supplier farms, to dictate to them how to grow their chickens, and how they are slaughtered. So, for example, chickens are raised in overpopulated windowless chicken houses, which means that the chickens can barely walk, and do not resist when they are put into containers to be taken to the food factories. Similarly, pigs and cows are on top of each other on farms, are raised on corn instead of grass, and their skin is covered in faeces. This leads to undesirable e.Coli and semonella which can contaminate the meat, which is then sold in supermarkets or processed into hamburger patties.
The mother of young Kevin, whose son died from E.coli which was in her son’s hamburger at a fast food outlet, becomes a food “advocate”, lobbying the USA government that food producers who are regularly having to recall their food products from supermarkets or fast food outlets should be closed down. This is in the face of economic pressure on American politicians to permit such producers to continue producing cheap food.
The corn production industry appears equally corrupt and 45 % of corn produced is genetically engineered. Corn is purchased below production cost by meat-producing farmers, to keep the cost of meat low. Corn is a surprise ingredient in numerous supermarket products such as ketchup, chips and other snacks, cola drinks, canned soup and more. Tomatoes have been genetically engineered to not go bad so quickly, says the movie. Up to 75 % of the processed supermarket foods one eats in the USA contain genetically engineered ingredients, which can lead to cancer, allergies and problems with toxins.
The fast food industry in the USA has grown dramatically since the drive-ins were started in the 1950’s, and thereafter the McDonalds were started and expanded internationally. For many families, the low cost of fast food is a more affordable means of feeding a family than is buying healthy fruit and vegetables. One family is interviewed, and the husband’s diabetes medication takes a big chunk of the family’s disposable money for their food purchases, forcing them to find the cheapest food to feed the family. A group of scholars is shown, and each of them know more than one person with diabetes.
The result is that more and more Americans are becoming sick, and even die, as did young Kevin, and Americans are becoming more obese. 76 million Americans have become sick from eating contaminated meat, 32 500 have been hospitalised, and 5 000 have died. Food labelling regulations in the USA do not demand that genetically engineered products are specified on food labels. The FDA and USDA are criticised for being weak in not protecting the lives and health of the American population.
The documentary spends quite some time on Monsanto, a powerful company which has produced genetically engineered soya beans. The company does not allow farmers to clean their beans to replant them, forcing all farmers to buy them from Monsanto. The company sends investigators to farms, and sues farmers who do not follow this directive. The farmers have no protection from the company, and most farmers cannot stand up to its financial and legal power.
The movie shows how much pressure is placed on farmers to tow the food producers’ line, in that filming in chicken houses was not allowed, and all the food companies declined to be interviewed for the movie. Cameras were smuggled into some of the production sites via staff, to provide footage for the movie.
Viewers are asked to get involved, to lobby for better controls over the food production industry, to eat at home (and therefore not buy fast food), to eat together as a family, to lobby for fair conditions for workers in food production companies (many are illegal workers from Mexico, who are arrested regularly, while their employers are not), to grow one’s own vegetables and fruit, to eat only seasonal foods, to not drink sweetened beverages, to pressurise restaurants to specify the calorie count of each dish, to lobby for schools to not sell junk food or sweetened beverages, to support farmers’ markets, and to do “meatless Mondays”. The movie ends off on a positive note, interviewing a farmer who supplies an organic yoghurt to Wal-Mart. Initially he was opposed to supplying a national food chain, but realised that Wal-Mart is bowing to customer pressure, and they flag organic products in the store, which the farmer says is a good thing.
Food, Inc, Cinema Nouveau, V&A Waterfront and Cavendish, Cape Town. www.foodincmovie.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com