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.
This post originally appeared on Spoonfed in April 2010, when PBS showed the film in honor of Earth Day.
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