For the book, see Food, Inc. (book).
Food, Inc. is a 2008 American documentary film directed by filmmaker Robert Kenner. The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.
The film received positive responses and was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award and the Independent Spirit Awards in 2009, both for Best Documentary Feature.
The film's first segment examines the industrial production of meat (chicken, beef, and pork), calling it inhumane and economically and environmentally unsustainable. The second segment looks at the industrial production of grains and vegetables (primarily corn and soy beans), again labeling this economically and environmentally unsustainable. The film's third and final segment is about the economic and legal power, such as food labelling regulations, of the major food companies, the profits of which are based on supplying cheap but contaminated food, the heavy use of petroleum-based chemicals (largely pesticides and fertilizers), and the promotion of unhealthy food consumption habits by the American public. It shows companies like Wal-Mart transitioning towards organic foods as that industry is booming in the recent health movement.
Michael Pollan was a consultant and appears in the film. Eric Schlosser co-produced and appears in the film. Participant Media was the production company. The film took three years to make. Director Kenner claims that he spent large amounts of his budget on legal fees to try to protect himself against lawsuits from industrial food producers, pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers, and other companies criticized in the film.
An extensive marketing campaign was undertaken to promote the film. A companion book of the same name was released in May 2009.Stonyfield Farm, an organicyogurt maker located in New Hampshire, promoted the film by printing information about it on the foil lids of 10 million cups of its yogurt in June 2009.
Releases and box office
The film was shown as a preview at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, in February 2009. It also screened at several film festivals in the spring before opening commercially in the United States on June 12, 2009, in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It made $61,400 in its first week. It expanded to an additional 51 theaters in large cities in the U.S. and Canada on June 19. It made an additional $280,000 its second weekend.
The film was due to be released in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2009; however, its release was postponed until 12 February 2010.
The producers invited on-screen rebuttals from Monsanto Company, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Perdue Farms, and other companies, but all declined the invitation. Monsanto says it invited the filmmakers to a producers' trade show, but they claimed that they were denied press credentials at the event, and were not permitted to attend. An alliance of food production companies (led by the American Meat Institute) created a website, SafeFoodInc.org, in response to the claims made in the film. Monsanto also established its own website to specifically respond to the film's claims about that company's products and actions.Cargill told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the company welcomed "differing viewpoints on how global agriculture can affordably nourish the world while minimizing environmental impact, ensuring food safety, guaranteeing food accessibility and providing meaningful work in agricultural communities." But the company criticized the film's "'one-size-fits-all' answers to a task as complex as nourishing 6 billion people who are so disparately situated across the world."
Fast-food chain Chipotle responded to the documentary in July 2009 by offering free screenings of it at various locations nationwide and stating that it does things differently, which it hopes customers will appreciate after seeing Food, Inc.
The film's director, Robert Kenner, has denied attacking the current system of producing food, noting in one interview: "All we want is transparency and a good conversation about these things." In the same interview, he went on to say, "...the whole system is made possible by government subsidies to a few huge crops like corn. It's a form of socialism that's making us sick."
The film has been highly rated by critics collectively, with a combined rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 80 out of 100 on Metacritic. The Staten Island Advance called the documentary "excellent" and "sobering", concluding: "Documentaries work when they illuminate, when they alter how we think, which renders Food, Inc. a solid success, and a must-see." The Toronto Sun called it "terrifying" and "frankly riveting". The San Francisco Examiner was equally positive, calling the film "visually stylish" and "One of the year’s most important films..." The paper called the picture's approach to its controversial subject matter "a dispassionate appeal to common sense" and applauded its "painstaking research and thoughtful, evenhanded commentary..."
The Los Angeles Times, too, praised Food, Inc.'s cinematography, and called the film "eloquent" and "essential viewing". The Montreal Gazette noted that despite the film's focus on American food manufacture, the film is worth viewing by anyone living in a country where large-scale food production occurs. The paper's reviewer declared Food, Inc. "must-see", but also cautioned that some of the scenes are "not for the faint of heart".
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that other documentaries and books have examined similar issues before; however, the film was still worth seeing: "The food-conglomerate angle was covered in a less-ambitious documentary called King Corn, and a more-ambitious documentary called The Corporation touched on the menace of the multinationals; but this one hits the sweet spot, and it does it with style." The review concluded that the most powerful portion of the film focused on Monsanto's pursuit of legal action against farmers it accuses of improperly saving and reselling or replanting Monsanto’s patented seed, in violation of a signed stewardship agreement and contract not to save and resell or replant seeds produced from the crops they grow from Monsanto seed.
The San Francisco Chronicle, while noting the film has a "flair for the dramatic", concluded: "...it throws out one zinger after another, making its case with the methodical and unremitting force of muckrakers trying to radicalize—or at least rouse—a dozing populace." The Environmental Blog sympathized with the film's message and urged viewers to "vote to change this system."
Other reviews have not been as positive. A commentator at Forbes magazine found the film compelling but incomplete. The picture, the reviewer found, "fails to address how we might feed the country—or world" on the sustainable agriculture model advocated by the filmmakers, and that it failed to address critical issues of cost and access. A reviewer for The Washington Times said the movie was "hamstrung" because few corporate executives wished to be interviewed by those documentarians, although the reviewer agreed that the film was aiming for balance.
The film tied for fourth place as best documentary at the 35th Seattle International Film Festival.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, but lost to The Cove.
- A Place at the Table (2012), documentary film
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007), nonfiction book by Barbara Kingsolver
- Deconstructing Dinner (founded January 1, 2006), multimedia project
- Food Matters (2008), documentary film about nutrition
- Taste the Waste (2010), documentary film written and directed by Valentin Thurn
- The Future of Food (2004), documentary film
- The Jungle (1906), novel exploring the American meat-packing industry, by Upton Sinclair
- Fast Food Nation (2001), nonfiction book by Eric Schlosser
- ^"Food Inc. (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. January 13, 2010. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
- ^Box Office Information for Food, Inc.The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- ^"Food, Inc." BoxOfficeMojo.com. February 27, 2010. Accessed 2009-02-27.
- ^ abcdSeverson, Kim. "Eat, Drink, Think, Change."The New York Times. June 3, 2009.
- ^ abBiancolli, Amy. "Review: 'Food, Inc.' Not for the Squeamish."San Francisco Chronicle. June 12, 2009.
- ^ abcdChesterman, Lesley. "A Film That Will Make You Think Before You Eat."Montreal Gazette. June 20, 2009.
- ^ abcd"New Film Offers Troubling View of US Food Industry." Associated Press. June 7, 2009.
- ^ abSimmons, Krista. "What Really Goes Into the Bag: Behind the Movie 'Food, Inc.'."Los Angeles Times. June 7, 2009.
- ^There is some dispute as to how long the film was in production. In another interview, director Robert Kenner claims the film took six years to make. See: Math, Mara. "The Right to Know About What We Eat."San Francisco Examiner. June 11, 2009.
- ^Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food Is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer—And What You Can Do About It. Karl Weber, ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2009. ISBN 1-58648-694-2
- ^ abcLevine, Allen. "Little Ag vs. Big Ag? Best Bet On Both."St. Paul Pioneer Press. June 18, 2009.
- ^"'Food, Inc.' Gets Promo on Yogurt Lids."The Hollywood Reporter. June 11, 2009.
- ^Marrero, Diana. "Sensenbrenner Cow Tax Fears Come Out of Thin Air."Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. June 13, 2009.
- ^"Food, Inc." True/False Film Festival. No date. Accessed 2009-07-31. Archived March 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ abcDeardorff, Julie. "Food, Inc.: How Factory Farming Affects You."Chicago Tribune. June 12, 2009.
- ^"Good Buzz Wins Out As 'Hangover,' 'Up' Dominate Box Office Once Again."Los Angeles Times. June 14, 2009; Germain, David. "'Hangover' Hangs On As No. 1 Movie With $33.4M."Associated Press. June 14, 2009.
- ^ abKilday, Gregg. "'Proposal' Accepted at the Box Office."The Hollywood Reporter. June 21, 2009.
- ^ abBraun, Liz. "You'll Choke On This Info."Toronto Sun. June 19, 2009.
- ^Rayner, Jay. "Food Is the New Fur for the Celebrity With a Conscience."The Observer. June 14, 2009.
- ^"UK Film release schedule - past, present and future". www.launchingfilms.com. 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
- ^ abKearney, Christine. "Film Aims to Expose Dangers in U.S. Food Industry."Reuters. June 9, 2009.
- ^ abGustin, Georgina. "'Food, Inc.' Chews Up Monsanto, Agribusiness Cousins."St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 26, 2009.
- ^ abRuiz, Rebecca. "What Food Activists Ignore."Forbes. June 11, 2009.
- ^The trade show operators said they did not maintain records on rejected requests for press credentials. See: Gustin, "'Food, Inc.' Chews Up Monsanto, Agribusiness Cousins," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2009.
- ^SafeFoodInc.org Web site. Accessed 2009-06-07. WARNING: as of 2018-02-03 this site is not functional--it appears to have a typo-squatter and only has advertising links.
- ^"Web Site Takes on 'Food Inc'." Pork Magazine. June 12, 2009; Levin, Ann. "'Food Inc.' Has Sickening View of Food Industry."Associated Press. June 21, 2009.
- ^ abMonsanto site about the movie Food, Inc. Accessed 2009-06-07.
- ^"Cargill's Response to 'Food Inc.'."Minneapolis Star Tribune. June 20, 2009.
- ^"Free Food – Food, Inc., That Is". Zagat.com. July 9, 2009.
- ^Birdsall, John. "A Conversation with 'Food, Inc.' Director Robert Kenner."San Francisco Weekly. June 12, 2009.
- ^"Food, Inc. (2009)" RottenTomatoes.com Accessed 2010-11-30.
- ^"Food, Inc." Metacritic.com No date. Accessed 2009-11-19.
- ^Hill, Todd. "'Food, Inc.,' 'Moon' Top This Week's Alternatives to Mainstream Movies."Staten Island Advance. June 12, 2009.
- ^ abDrake, Rossiter. "Here's Why Food Is Factory Fresh." San Francisco Examiner. June 12, 2009.
- ^Goldstein, Gary. "Movie Review: 'Food, Inc.'" Los Angeles Times. June 12, 2009.
- ^ abWilliams, Joe. "'Food, Inc.'"St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 26, 2009.
- ^Food Inc Review - The Environmental Blog
- ^Bunch, Sonny. "Moore Worry Haunts Cinema."The Washington Times. June 19, 2009.
- ^Kilday, Gregg. "Seattle Fest Announces Winners."The Hollywood Reporter. June 14, 2009.
- ^"Taste the Waste at Oneworld.cz". Oneworld.cz.
I finally saw Food, Inc. Frankly, I didn’t expect to like it much. I expected a one-sided, misleading anti-corporate tirade, along the lines of The Corporation. I was only partly correct. The main message really does seem to be that big companies are ruining everything, and that things would be better if we all just realized that we should be buying directly from the kindly farmer/sage down the road. But in spite of that slant, the movie does contain some useful stuff. So, my conclusion: a grudging endorsement. I think the film is flawed, but worth seeing.
First, I’ll note a couple of worthwhile take-away lessons, points that are made by the film and that seem well-justified.
Number one is that the meat industry is pretty disgusting. Most of the people who might be tempted to see Food, Inc. likely already knew that. But it’s a rotten industry. Injury rates for workers are high. Animals are treated badly. And quality control can be dodgy. The causes are pretty clear. Competition drives companies in all industries to cut corners in order to attract and keep customers. Sometimes that has undesirable effects. In the food industry, those effects can be pretty bad. Food, Inc. doesn’t tell us much that’s new, here, but it’s a useful reminder.
Number two: the corn subsidies in the U.S. are apparently insane. Those subsidies result in overproduction of corn (and hence of High-Fructose Corn Syrup). The result is that crappy food can be more affordable than nutritious food. Politically-powerful food companies like the subsidies (since they keep the price of ingredients down) so the food-buying public is likely to go on being subject to all the wrong incentives.
(For more on that topic, see the excellent 2007 documentary, King Corn.)
But in several ways the movie is less than satisfying.
My first worry has to do with the film-makers’ decision not to bring relevant expertise to bear. With the possible exception of journalist/authors Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), both of whom are knowledgeable guys, the movie’s cast of characters is seriously lacking in experts. Instead, it uses regular folks — people knowledgeable about their own experiences, to be sure — to talk about matters regarding which, as far as the audience can tell, they have no particular expertise. A bereaved mom (with no apparent legal training) explains legal issues. A farmer explains food economics. And so on. Now I’m not just worshipping at the altar of expertise, here. The experiences of the “regular folks” interviewed for the film are powerful and important and I’m glad they were included in this film. But food is (as is increasingly apparent) a complicated topic. So why not, in addition, feature interviews with experts in the relevant issues? Why not a food economist? Or a policy analyst with expertise in agricultural policy? Why not a lawyer or two?
My second concern (not unrelated to the previous one) has to do with factual accuracy. I kept wondering: could an organization with the journalistic standards of, say, the New York Times have made this movie? Would all the claims made in Food, Inc. stand if they had to be verified by two independent sources? Maybe they were carefully verified. Who knows? The audience can’t tell. Part of that has to do with the format: a film format occasionally requires that documentation be sacrificed in favour of drama, and there’s no easy way to provide footnotes in a documentary. In one segment, for example, a union official claims — in so many words — that law enforcement officials were conspiring with a meat packing company to make sure that just enough of its illegal-immigrant workers were arrested to keep up appearances without interfering with production. If that were verifiable, it would be cause for legal action.
Finally, the movie is also lamentably short on solutions. The movie’s complaint is clear: industrial-scale food production is the problem. But there are no serious suggestions about a different way to produce this much food, without the efficiencies of scale that come from factory farms, massive tracts of corn, and the huge corporations that are required to turn those inputs into dinner. So, we’re left with simplistic stuff like “buy local” and “buy organic”, neither of which is really much of a solution. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of ‘voting with your fork’; but it would help to know what we should be voting for. I suppose a film like this isn’t obligated to propose solutions: it’s goal is to raise awareness. But still. By now, we know many of the problems. Without viable, large-scale alternatives, we’re left with the vague feeling that the bad stuff Food, Inc. talks about might just be the lamentable side-effects (hopefully some of which are remediable) of an imperfect-but-generally-useful system.
Now to be fair, Food, Inc.’s shortcomings are pretty clearly part of the film-makers’ rhetorical strategy. It’s not an accident that they relied on the voices of real folks instead of experts, and that they point to problems but not solutions. The film is trying to raise awareness, pointing out problems in an enormous industry with potent political allies. In going for the gut, in not bothering to seek out experts, in leaving out important truths, the documentary fights dirty. But when your opponents are companies like Monsanto and Tyson, it’s hard not to admit that the film makers are fighting dirty in what is undeniably bound to be a dirty fight.
p.s. I liked this review of Food, Inc. by Marc Gunther: Food Inc: tasty but unsatisfying.