PBS is showing the movie “Food Inc.” tonight. So I’m pulling out a review I wrote when the movie debuted. Have you seen the film? Planning to watch tonight? Maybe recording it to watch later with your kids? (See more about kid viewing below.)
You’ll never look at food the same way again. I promise. So watch (check your local listings here), then come tell me what you thought.
Real food. Whether we grow it or just eat it, here’s my definition: Something that grows in the ground or grazes on it, then is harvested with care and left in as natural a state as possible until it’s consumed. By us. Hopefully with appreciation for where it came from.
I think about this subject a lot. Like all the time, obsessively. And I talk about it, too, which gets mixed reactions. Some friends share my passion. Others wish I would shut up already. The teachers at my daughter’s preschool graciously indulged our practice of supplying our own snacks every day. But the counselors at her summer camp gave blank stares when I suggested that blue ice pops were not real food.
So it’s no surprise that my husband and I found ourselves at a screening of the documentary “Food Inc.,” which showed at the Little Theatre in May as part of the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival. The movie, which has just been released nationwide, argues for a simpler, more transparent and democratic food system — instead of the overly mechanized and subsidized, oligarchic system that has taken its toll on our collective health and the health of the planet.
Thanks to industrialized agriculture, “the way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000,” the food writer Michael Pollan says in the film.
Predictably, there are dark themes: the death of a 2-year-old boy who ate an E. coli-tainted hamburger; farmers intimidated into debt and out of business; chickens bred for breasts so large that the birds can’t stand; a family forced to choose cheap fast food over fresh produce because otherwise they couldn’t afford the father’s (diabetes-related) medicine; and a “hamburger filler” factory where animal parts are sanitized with ammonia and smooshed like fruit roll-ups.
But as people in the audience covered their eyes and cringed, I wanted to shout out for everyone to sit up, look straight ahead and face down the food on their plates. Then, maybe, hopefully, take a deep breath and next time make a different choice.
I’ve been encouraged by the growth of the local-foods movement in western New York, by the rise of so many new farmers’ markets and CSAs (community-supported farms). And by the new crop of idealistic — yet in no way naïve — farmers and producers who’ve embraced our agrarian roots and brought us closer again to food the way it was meant to be eaten.
But if enough of us vote with our forks, even Big Food will play along. With momentum and some loud voices, food policy could shift away from subsidies for monoculture crops like corn and soybeans and toward the development of diverse, sustainable agriculture, making healthy food the norm, no matter your address or paycheck.
Until then? Plant a garden or at least some tomatoes, visit a market, join a CSA, buy pastured meat and dairy, make some jam. And when it hits local theaters, see “Food Inc.” Popcorn optional.
For a little extra inspiration, check out this “Food Inc.” discussion guide from the Center for Ecoliteracy. It’s aimed at high school students, but, as I wrote in a previous post, there’s a case to be made for showing the film even to younger kids. Or at least for talking with them about the issues it raises. We haven’t shown our 7-year-old the movie yet, but we plan to soon.
Need help deciding whether to let your children watch? Check out these kid-centric reviews from Common Sense Media and Parent Previews.
This post originally appeared on Spoonfed in April 2010, when PBS showed the film in honor of Earth Day.
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My 12-year old watched it and it opened up a lot of conversations about the food industry, but also about how to make informed decisions that are not influenced by media input. That said, he’s now a vegetarian/free-range-arian!
My new favorite word: “free-range-arian.”
I feel that so many of the people who watch Food Inc. are the ones who already know what is wrong with our food system, or at least parts of it. I had already been through Pollan’s, Salatin’s, Kingsolver’s, and even Rodale’s books, among others, before viewing the film, and I had also made my food choices prior to seeing it. I am also a free-range-arian (I love that term, thanks Kate!)
That aside, I admire everything you are working towards with your family. I do not have children, but I am a NYS certified teacher working towards developing a summer program for farm and environmental education. Kids need to have a sense of where their food comes from if they are to be able to make informed decisions about what they eat, and too often that is not the case. I have big hopes for the younger generation, and I know that I can make a bigger impact by helping kids vote with their forks instead of just using my own.
I’m so with you on that last point. If we can get this generation of kids thinking about and eating real food again, I truly think we can turn things around. Your program sounds great. I’d love to hear more once it’s ready to go.
We watched it with our 11 year old daughter. She’s very food aware (how can she be anything but in a household where her mom is, as she calls it, a “health-oholic”)! She still is very motivated by taste & appeal but she is learning to see beyond to what the food pushers *don’t* tell you… maybe raising a slightly cynical child in that sense, but I think you almost have to be to survive in the crazy food world around us!
So true. Maybe we should call it critical thinking instead of cynicism. Has a better ring to it, don’t you think?
Honestly, I’m not sure that Food Inc will hold my 5 1/2 year old son’s attention for the entire movie, but I’m not worried about exposing him to the content. I would have hesitated previously but his recent interest in ancient Egypt and other ancient cultures exposed him to the concept of human sacrifice and we dealt with that just fine, surprisingly. I don’t think the mistreatment of chickens and cows is going to freak him out at this point, plus we discuss this stuff frequently as we buy free-range meat from local farmers!
If you haven’t already, you might want to show him The Meatrix video, which is short and on point, and a good visual intro to factory farming. It’s embedded here in my post on talking to kids about industrial meat.
McDonald’s used to be my 9-year-old and 6-year-old’s first choice for restaurants. After watching “Supersize Me” and “Food Inc.” last fall, they have never asked to go ever again. When they are tempted by some processed food in the store, I would ask them to check the ingredients. We would choose not to buy after reading “corn syrup” or words we don’t know. “Food Inc.” did change the way we eat at home.
I love hearing stories like this! Kids are so smart and open-minded, so eager to learn and make their own decisions. Kudos to you for giving them that opportunity.
I saw this movie a few weeks ago after seeing the author from “Eating Animals” on Ellen. I then read Michael Pollan’s book…I’m UPSET that no one told me or exposed me or I was just naive enough not to question where the food came from…
I have a 5 and 2 1/2 year old – are there any kids’ books that talk about this stuff? I think they’re too young to watch this movie…
We eat healthy at home and they love their fruits/veggies – we plan to continue to explain about the food we eat and and to have them help cook with us…
I continue to bug my friends and family and urge them to be more conscious of the food we buy/eat…
I’m actually researching kids’ books right now, and will report back in a later post, but one that immediately comes to mind is “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals” by Ruby Roth. As you can tell from its name, the book takes a vegetarian/vegan view, so that may not be what you’re looking for. But I think it does a good job of discussing factory farms in an age-appropriate way.
“Eating Animals” is next on my (adult) reading list.
I’m just now reading this blog, I know it’s a bit late, but Michael Pollan actually wrote a book geared towards kids (i’m not sure what age.) I haven’t personally read it yet, but I’m sure it must be good. It’s called: The Omnivores Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What you Eat
Thanks, Lisa. I did mention that in another post, on teaching kids the truth about industrial meat.
My son watched it in his cooking class this week. He was quite disturbed by it, and said that it cemented why he never wants to eat pork.
Free range would be great if we could afford it and it was readily accessible, but unfortunately, it isn’t so for now we make do the best we can. I would like to see this film though.
Thanks for linking up to Food Revolution Fridays!
How great that your son’s class showed the movie. I think I read on your blog that he’s about 14. That’s the perfect audience, in my mind. Old enough to get all the policy/agribusiness discussions (and to get mad about it). Young enough to be open to change and to set up a lifetime of good habits.
I haven’t ever seen Food, Inc. I will definitely have to see it soon. I try to make good decisions about our food as much as possible. I’ve signed our family up for a CSA share this year. There are very few CSAs where I live (in Calgary, AB) so I was very lucky to get in. I find that it is a bit easier to find healthier food in Canada than the US (though don’t get me wrong…there’s still a lot of junk!).
Funny you should say that about Canada. We were in Toronto this weekend, and I loved how easy it was to find good, fresh foods at so many markets and even in the museum cafeterias. I’ve also never seen so many (fruit/vegetable) juicers in one city before. Granted, a city of Toronto’s size naturally will have more (and better) food choices, but I still found it refreshing.
We watched it as a family. Now my kids wont step foot in a fast food place! Of course they grew up eating our own homegrown beef, chicken, eggs, milk pork etc – so they know first hand how good it is. It will deepen their commitment of what to feed their own kids.
Can you imagine? I haven’t seen this yet. My husband has it on our digital media player. I am planning on seeing it soon. I’ll also probably screen parts of it for my little girl, also six. This is such an important topic.
This movie had been on my list, but I hadn’t seen it. My husband and I watched it together the night I read your post and we went to the farmers market the next day! There was information in there that I knew, but there was a lot I didn’t. Thanks for your post!
So great to hear this! Thanks for letting me know.
I had my 12 year-old watch this movie as well. She was fuming with how Monsanto seed lawyers treated farmers. Children know when something is unfair and simply wicked. She also brought up a great question in regards to the farmers being sued because Monsanto seed got onto farms that didn’t use gmo seeds. She asked why don’t the farmers sue Monsanto for corrupting their crops with their seed, then it lead her down the line of thinking, well why doesn’t (Monsanto) sue nature?? Anyway with all the rubbish out there in terms of movies these days, I really encourage parents to watch this with their kiddos.
Sounds like you’ve got quite a critical thinker there. The seed-saver storyline made me fume, too. I went into the movie knowing a lot already, but that took my breath away. The depth and scope of Monsanto’s reach is truly frightening.
This movie opened my eyes and changed my life (and my families subsequently). It was this movie that also pushed me into acting to make changes in the schools. The school menus are filled with Tyson chicken products and meat with fillers. How can we let our children eat this processed junk? My son watched some of this movie with me but he couldn’t stomach all of the animal scenes. I do think it is important that our kids have these eye opening experiences too. These bad choices are out there and we can’t turn back the clock. We can educate our children about real food and good choices.
I saw this movie and LOVED it. I had no idea what was going on before I saw it, and since then I have being doing research to try to find property for my own farm. It totally changed my way of thinking. I want to grow everything myself, organically, free range, healthy and safe for my own family and for every family. Why wouldn’t all farmers want to do the same?
I talked to my 8 year old about it (didn’t show her the movie, too graphic for her age) and she understands it. She wants to help me grow healthy food for her school too! She has friends with lots of medical problems and too many are suffering from childhood obesity. If an 8 year old gets it, why can’t some grownups? Terrible! But we can’t wait around for them to change, we have to move on without them and do the right thing. Maybe they will come around? Until then, I plan to grow it myself and will be happy to share. Every person should have the right to eat healthy food.
Sorry to be coming to this conversation so late, but the movie really made me mad at how our food supply chain has been taken over by Monsanto et al. I lve in Ireland so a lot of the problems have not reached here ….yet.
We take for granted the grass fed beef and hormone free milk, but the times are changing and GMO laws are in the midst of being relaxed, so it’s inevitable that we will all be faced with ‘American style’ food issues.
I came accross a blog 100daysof realfood and my god it scared the living daylights out of me. I always thought that I made healthy choices, but seeing what went into bread and other ‘healthy’ products i became an avid label reader, and went and read Michael Pollans books.
On a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii i was amazed that even in bread there were HFCS and all these mad preservatives, it really stopped me from buying grocery store cakes with the ingredients lists wrapped around the side cos it was sooooo long, before reading Pollans books i would have just thought of it as a treat and munched away. You just can’t get away from those HFCS they are in JUICE??? Anyway i guess my long winded point is that it is hard enough for adults to make these choices, and the more people that watch Food Inc or enter into debates about food the more we can try and help kids to think for themselves. It’s not about restricting choices, it’s trying to explain what would be best ingredient wise and having the odd treat now and then, cos let’s face it even with the best will in the world, sometimes that cake is calling your name!
Nikki: Let’s hope that Ireland and the rest of Europe stay the course on sustainability, because you’ve got so many models for us over there. I hear you on the scary stuff (and 100 Days is a great resource), but, as you noted, the more we educate ourselves and demand change, the better for us all.
my 12 year old twins came home from school (catholic elementary) and said they viewed it. i am glad. they need to know where this food comes from and be able to make their choices in the future.
Karla, how terrific that your kids’ school showed the film. I’m impressed. Had you heard of the movie before that? Or known much about it?