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food on film

The past couple days Harvey and I have been watching Food Inc., the Michael Pollan-inspired movie that has its own display at our local Whole Foods. Obviously, I already agree with the filmmakers' agenda. But I don't think it's an ideal film.

The movie is all about the unnumbered evils of "big food": inhumane treatment of animals, terrible conditions for workers, unsafe food, pollution, reliance on petroleum, monoculture, unhealthy food, produce that tastes crappy, junk food that is cheaper than vegetables... you get the point. Really, it's just too much. If you already agree with the film's thesis, you're happy to say "right on!" to each charge, but for those still needing to be convinced it comes across as a bit scattershot—or worse, as a reach. "Wow, these guys sure hate the food industry!" the movie makes you want to say. "What, are they going to tell us that Tyson chicken nuggets are actually made from ground-up babies?!"

And then, the filmmakers don't really offer much in the way of a solution either. About all they can come up with is "buy better things at the grocery store." I understand why this is: ideally, they want their movie to reach people who aren't already shopping at farmers markets and growing their own food. They want changing the food landscape to be something that seems possible without too much sacrifice. But it doesn't really work, because how on earth can anyone imagine that their supermarket choices can affect the incredible litany of evils presented above?! And even if it could, the supermarket is a really confusing place. Is organic food good, or is local better? Is processed food ok if it's made by a "hippy" company? How much can we even trust labels, anyways? And the film acknowledges this: it's most compelling interviewee talks about how his meat will never show up on Walmart shelves, because getting that big would compromise his operation. (That's just before we hear how excited the dude from Stonyfield yogurt is to have broken big with the big box stores.)

To me, the movie goes at things from the wrong end. Don't tell people that everything they're eating is full of evil. Who knows what to do with that?! You either shrug it off, or get overwhelmed with the scope of the problem and do nothing. Wouldn't it be better to present stories of people who are doing better, even if in small ways? "Grow a garden," the end credits tell us. Why not show a few people who are growing their own food? Or even farmers serving local communities? Or a farmers market, for more than two seconds? Those things aren't in the movie, and I think it's because the filmmakers want to speak to the mainstream, and feel that the alternatives are too far out. But if they don't talk about them, they won't even seem possible to people who don't already know how easy they are.

Still, it's a better movie than most of what's out there. If it can steal a little multiplex time from the latest Marvel superhero rehash maybe it'll speak to one or two people who hadn't thought about the subject before. It's well-filmed, too.


So that's what you've been doing in your office these past few days! I just heard the television sounds and animal grunts and thought I'd leave you alone for a while.

No but seriously... I'm so fucking fed up with the bullshit appeasement message that the only way we can change things is to make better choices at the supermarket. Alls we can dos with our lives and values is spend more money! Send a message to the powers that be by emptying your savings account into a different one of their corporate divisions. Gah! SMASH THE SHITSDOM!

Okay, I took a deep breath and I feel better now. I really need to stop eating all these sandwiches laced with animal growth hormones.

i haven't seen the movie but i often feel like I don't know what to do with things like this even when they make good points. like if i had watched that 2 or maybe even less years ago i just would have cried and then had to go to the grocery store to buy the same old same old because they didn't tell me what else to do.

I'm all into reading and watching stuff that says, hey i figured out what we would normally eat is crappy and i'm making changes, come along for the ride while I figure it out oh and here are other positive people doing it too. I learned far more about how great food can taste from my neighbor who shared her csa food with us and THEN told us why she did it than i usually do from those who fixate on the negative.

anyway, all this to say, here's to farms that grow yummy food and let us get it from them :)

3 cheers to Bridget for having a much more positive reaction than me.... as per usual ;)

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