Warning: See Food Inc. on an empty stomach
The most disturbing thing in Food, Inc.—director Robert Kenner’s caustic documentary about North America’s industrial food industry—is a chicken. But not any chicken. Obese, overfed and pumped full of antibiotics, the bird in question waddles through an overcrowded, feces-strewn coop. Its tiny bones can’t support its unnatural girth, so its legs buckle and crumple every few steps. Eventually, it collapses, plopping into the excrement and dust of the coop, its beak gaping. This chicken is effective shorthand for everything Kenner finds wrong with the unnatural system of industrial-scale food production the world has come to rely on.
“What we try to do is take you through a system that’s gone askew,” says Kenner. “I don’t think that there are evil intentions, but at a certain point [the food industry] stopped wanting us to think about the system. It’s about getting more calories to us at a cheaper price. Which is great; we’re spending less on food than at any other time in history, but there are these other costs that come with it.”
No kidding. Kenner, along with interview subjects Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), finds so much wrong with the food industry that his film ends up being hyperkinetic, jumping from issue to issue, any one of which could be the subject of a full-length film of its own. Besides the treatment of livestock, there’s food safety; Kenner alleges that many food-borne illnesses are more common than ever today, given the degree of filth in industrial slaughterhouses.
Food, Inc. is unabashedly activist filmmaking, though the one-sidedness wasn’t entirely intentional. Kenner insists he tried to strike a balance, but none of the food companies he approached agreed to talk with him. Instead they strung him along until he decided to give up. Now agricultural biotech giant Monsanto is saying the film “demonizes American farmers and the agriculture system.”
“I actually thought we could have conversation about how our food gets to the table,” says Kenner. “And I was naive enough to think it was possible. I thought they would want to have their point of view represented, but what I found was that agribusiness is very much into secrecy. But when I go to a hearing about whether the Food and Drug Administration should label cloned meat as cloned, and a representative from the meat industry says it would be too confusing to the consumer, and the FDA agrees, I have to think, Oh my god. That’s scary.”
Food, Inc. is now playing at Cumberland 4 Cinemas (159 Cumberland St.).