Food Inc. is the latest documentary/ expose of corporate finagling within the food industry. By buying a ticket, you are paying for a dose of depression and guilt, both of which you get in spades, but you also get a multi-layered and valuable insight into a very real and unmonitored problem. Oddly enough, what gives the film special credence is Eric Schlosser’s (author of the book Fast Food Nation, another food industry expose) unabashed claim that his favourite meal is still a hamburger and chips. Obviously, this isn’t some vegan polemic, as all foods get the same treatment.
Harrowing images of the mass killing of chickens, pigs and cows abound, but what is interesting about this film is that everyone is seen to do it. The nasty corporate “food factories”, the near-utopian free-range pastures or the farms of an average American are all sites for animal slaughter. Whether an animal wanders into an abattoir of its own accord or is pushed is not the real issue. Morals, refreshingly, are left to one side. What the film tackles is the political and economic side of the food industry.
In America, the food industry is a very secretive organisation with the food itself separated from its origins by what the film terms as The Veil (in one of it’s tackier moments, the film notes how the word ‘veil’ is an anagram of ‘evil’), in which the government and the media turn a blind eye. Particularly stirring is the fact that the food companies were able to replace an independent food safety monitoring board with a self-policing system. This resulting lapse in food safety has lead to widespread poisonings and product recalls across America. The food companies all refused to be involved in the film. As a result, the film is very much of one voice, though this helps the film in some ways. No justification given, after all, suggests no justification to give.
The film does have a sentimental streak, however, with a few human-interest story sequences that scream, “Staged!” An odd preachy tone develops at the end. Instructions are listed before the end credits can begin, detailing what to do now that you’ve seen the film. Though that may be a good thing. A documentary of this sort is inevitably going to be preachy by nature. Food Inc. becomes a sermon only at its epilogue. Nevertheless, this sentimental streak is detrimental, giving you the feeling that you are being cleverly manipulated. This realisation deadens some of the films effect.
The best way to assess the films impact is probably to look at my own actions immediately following the screening. I went straight home and had a frozen pizza (with meat) for dinner, but I did read the label.