Release Date: 20 May, 2010
No-one really thinks that red cars go faster. Whatever the colour of the body, it’s the same engine underneath. Yet the new documentary Food Inc. suggests we are in danger of swallowing a similar fallacy when it comes to the meals we eat. Fast food or supermarket fresh, it hardly matters if the food we eat comes from the same corrupted supply.
Food Inc. is an unflattering look inside the belly of the American food industry by veteran documentary maker Robert Kenner. In it he dissects the mechanisation of food production and the implications it has had on the US diet. Though the film is at times myopically American, the warnings apply to any country that has allowed factories to dominate their food chain.
Viewers might wonder if there were any new discoveries to be made by a documentary on mass food production. I’ll admit I was similarly jaded. The revelation that the McDonald brothers were the first chain to bring repetitive factory techniques into family restaurants was hardly shocking. The pictures of animals deformed by mass production were also strangely familiar. What I was not prepared for was the degree to which we had subverted God’s good design.
The chickens in Food Inc. never see the sun. Their tiny legs are unable to support their ponderous breasts. Under the influence of hormones and antibiotics, they grow from egg to maturity in 49 days. It is a mercy that their internal organs are so underdeveloped otherwise they might live longer. The same could be said for the cows with missing leg-bones or the permanent, head-sized holes in their sides that allow for easy examination of their stomach contents. And it’s no surprise that what is bad for them is not much better for us. The high-speed production lines that produce such travesties have been linked to everything from increased human obesity to the emergence of deadly strains of e. coli.
What will come as a surprise is how personally affected we are.
Australians are increasingly aware of the important part nutritious food plays in a healthy life-style. Consequently if we rarely indulge in fast food, we might look on our diets with some complacency. However Food Inc. reveals that fewer, larger corporations now dictate food production. Four companies account for 80% of all beef consumed in the US. Similar things can be said for staples like pork, canola and soybeans. In the end it makes little difference to our diet when the same systems feed both the drive-thrus and the supermarkets.
The blame is laid at the food industry’s overriding goal of efficiency. Economies of scale have guaranteed that I can buy a meal for less than ever before but as one farmer puts it, “Is cheapness everything there is? I mean, who wants to buy the cheapest car?” Sadly the solution offered is not as obvious as the problem. Robert Kenner puts an undue amount of faith in the power of the individual. A representative businessman observes,
“The irony is that the average consumer feels powerless … [But] when you run a product past the supermarket scanner you’re casting a vote.”
Food Inc. then goes on to show how major corporations like Wal-Mart have changed their purchases to reflect customer desires. However the first assumption is that people would choose what was good for them, given the chance. The second is that they are capable of choosing even if they want to. Every vote of this sort has to be paid for and the poor are always at a disadvantage.
It may have been a nod to American culture but I think the most powerful suggestion comes almost as an afterthought at the end of the documentary:
“If you say grace ask for food that will keep us and the planet healthy.”
Prayer is not bounded by our resources, but relies on the infinite reserves and perfect control of the God who created food. Are you concerned about the damage we are doing to the Creator’s design? Then watch what you buy and offer a prayer before you eat it. This world could not fail to benefit from more people bringing their meals before God.