Wednesday, September 12, 2012

DVD Documentary: Food Inc.

Food, Inc is an eye-opening documentary on how the way we grow food has changed remarkably over the last 50 years. Although the food industry promotes the idea that food is produced on the family farm in its labeling of food products, this pastoral fantasy is entirely marketing. Instead the food industry in America is controlled by several multinational companies whose goal is to produce vast amounts of food as cheaply as possible, using heavily subsidized specific crops (corn and soybeans mainly) without concern for the environment, the treatment of animals and least of all without concern for the health and safety of workers.

The average American supermarket contains a whopping 47,000 products. Take a close look at what's being sold in your grocery store today and it's evident that the grocery store of the past 25 years is vastly different from the grocery store of the 1960s and 70's. There are no seasons in today's grocery store and there are no bones. Everything is precut, prepared and prepacked.

The reality, as Food Inc. effectively sets out to demonstrate, is that food is manufactured and not grown. Food production in the United States is controlled by a small group of multinational corporations who deliberately hide how food is produced from the unsuspecting public. And the less the public knows, the better.

The manufacturing/industrial system was grafted onto food production beginning with the development of fast food. In the 1930's, the McDonald brothers opened a very successful restaurant. But wishing to expand and serve more customers they grafted the factory system onto the back of the restaurant in the 1950s. They changed the way jobs in the kitchen were performed, so that workers were trained to do only one job, such as cooking hamburgers, meaning they could be paid less. They also wanted all their food to look the same, and since they were selling more hamburgers, french fries and so forth, they required vast amounts of meat, potatoes, tomatoes and other foods. MacDonalds became the largest purchaser of hamburger meat in the United States and it is not surprising that they changed the way beef was produced. The massive quantities of beef required by fast food restaurants meant that beef could no longer be grown on family farms but instead needed to be produced in a way similar to that of a factory - on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). The result is that today, instead of many beef producers, there are four top beef producers in the United States who control 80% of the market.

From this stunning beginning Food, Inc. takes us through various aspects of food production in the United States, starting with the production of corn. Supermarkets give us the illusion of diversity but many products have some type of corn or soybean derivative in them. Corn is a commodity crop because it can be stored and is heavily subsidized. One of the most astonishing facts I learned from Food Inc. was about the use of corn as cattle feed. Having grown up in a farming community and having lived the past 15 years of my life in a rural farming area in Canada, I know that corn has been used for years as feed, especially in the winter, but never exclusively. Cattle are ruminants, which means that they have evolved to eat grass. When a cow is fed corn, the bacterial population in its rumen changes predominantly to acid resistant E. coli - which is the most dangerous form of this common bacteria . This is a product of both the corn diet and living in a cramped feedlot, the latter meaning that all the cows in the lot eventually have E.coli. This bacteria is in the cow manure which coats their bodies and gets into the meat in the slaughterhouse. As a result most meat today is tainted with E. coli and now this contamination has spread to many other foods such as spinach and apple juice.

As Food, Inc. posits, one would think that as more and more technology is applied to food production, the safer our food products would be. But instead, food is more contaminated than ever today.

Food Inc. explores the feedlot, the darkened tunnel-fan chicken barns, and the vast slaughterhouses, such as the Smithfield Hog Processing Plant in Tar Hell, North Carolina. It also explores grass, seeds and organics. Not many people know for example, that farmers in the United States are no longer able top save their best seeds to replant the following year. Chemical manufacturer, Monsanto, which has a record of producing deadly chemicals such as Agent Orange, created a genetically modified soybean that can survive spraying by their pesticide, Round-Up. Due to Monsanto's prosecution (read, persecution) of farmers who wish to plant non genetically modified soyabeans, over 90% of soybeans today are Round Up Ready soybeans, meaning Monsanto is gradually gaining control of a major part of food production in the United States.

Food, Inc. presents its case in a logical, straightforward manner, without shocking the viewer. By making consumers aware of how their food is being produced, and why our food today is more contaminated than ever, it hopes to motivate viewers into pressuring the industry to change. As the film states near the end, we vote three times per day about how our food is made and what is sold in supermarkets. To prove this point, Food, Inc. indicates that Walmart, a mega-retailer often vilified by consumers, has made changes is what it purchases for its grocery section. It has listened to consumers and the changes it has made are positively affecting the type of food sold in stores. As we did with the tobacco industry, we can effect positive change in the food sold. The film provides viewers with ideas they can do to influence what food shows up in the supermarket.

Directed by Robert Kenner, Food,Inc. interviews major players in the attempt to waken the American public and effect positive change in the food industry. If you are concerned about what you eat, the environment, the treatment of animals and the health and safety of food industry workers and farmers, Food, Inc. is just the film to enlighten you.

For vintage pictures of the first McDonald's store in San Bernardino, California and a brief history of the fast food restaurant, check out this recent story from The Daily Mail in the UK.

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