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Food, Inc.: A gut-wrenching revelation of what's really on your plate

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E. coli? Obesity? Illegal immigration? Hardly a day goes by, it seems, when one of these issues doesn’t appear somewhere in the news. The new documentary film Food Inc. does something that few in the mainstream media have tried with these issues: it demonstrates how they’re all connected to our food system, and the mass production methods that now dominate food processing in the United States.

I expected that I might get a little queasy watching the film; I was surprised that the churning in my stomach wasn’t so much a product of gruesome illustrations of meat processing (which are in the film), but, rather, stemmed from the absurdity of the processes that largely determine what ends up on our plates. Director Robert Kenner explores food from all angles: agriculture and processing receives a fair share of attention, but Food Inc. also delves into government policy and regulation, corporate practices, and the economics of food for the average family. In short, a fast food burger is often the right choice according to the market because costs and efficiencies have become higher priorities than health and nutrition.

Food Inc. features experts Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) along with a range of farmers, business people, and activists involved in food policy. A production of Participant Media, the film’s message is both dire and hopeful: our food system is a mess, but consumers making the right choices for themselves and their families have immense power. You probably will leave the theater a bit queasy… but also feeling empowered about the difference you can make as you “vote with your dollars” in the food marketplace. The film’s website offers opportunities to get involved beyond your spending at the grocery store.

Food Inc. is still in somewhat limited release, but will be opening in more theaters across the country throughout July and August. It would be easy to call it The Jungle for our time; like that earlier work, let’s hope it spurs calls for change in the system that provides some of our most basic necessities.

Image: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and his grass-fed herd Credit: Participant Media