When Food Inc. was released in 2008 it received overwhelmingly positive critical and commercial attention. I heard good things about it from everyone I knew who had seen it, with most saying that it changed the way they thought about the food industry. At that point I was very intrigued and excited to see Food Inc., however it took me a while to actually sit down and watch the movie. After all I love eating junk food, even though I know better, and I hate watching things that make me feel worse about my food consumption. Still I knew at some point that I would have to let go of my pride and give Food Inc. a chance.
Now that I have seen the film I’m wondering why I worried so much in the first place. Yes Food Inc. did make me feel bad about how poorly animals are treated by farmers and slaughterhouses. It also made me angry about the fact that genetic patents exist, and that corn is used so poorly. After watching the documentary I felt pretty bad about the business of food, but that feeling quickly subsided. That’s probably because the key issue about Food Inc. is that is all about business. There is nothing really personal at all about the documentary and that is where it falls way short. Issue documentaries are all about addressing a serious problem and providing some potential for a solution, or at least an effective way the individual can get involved. Food Inc. was never able to bridge that gap between problems with the industry and problems that are at the individual level.
Now that may make me seem heartless that I wasn’t able to personalize with all of the problems shown in the film and how these big, bad corporations did nothing about them, but to be honest I’m just being realistic. These food industries exist because they are good at what they are supposed to do, which is to make money. The methods that they use are in place because they create the highest profit margins, and while they may occasionally cause problems, they are something like 99.9% effective. Also this means that when problems do break out they use the least-cost solution, which may seem heartless, but is just good business. Ultimately the only way problems like this get fixed is with new technology or by innovation that makes it less expensive to be able to raise and slaughter animals with the least amount of environmental harm. My biggest problem was with the idea that life, in this case seeds, can be patented. That seems pretty insane to me, but once again the only way to change that is with government policy. I hate to be a cynic, but I doubt that will happen, so everyone will just have to get used to it.
At the end of the film Food Inc. tried to make a push for individual involvement and while it was an admirable one, it actually was somewhat insulting. Their push was for people to whenever possible buy from companies who practice sustainable methods of farming or animal production. There were so many issues brought up during the entire film, and that was really all they could push at the individual level. Now personally, I would love to buy only organic or free-range food, but sadly i’m poor just like most of America. If most people had enough money to make conscious food choices we would all purchase the highest quality food, but sadly most of us do not have that luxury. Food Inc. even brings this issue up during the documentary and then at the end it decides to condense the problem as one that only rich people can afford to help with. The fact that that was the only solution they could come up with is proof that Food Inc. is ultimately a failure. It may succeed in showing people that we as consumers are not getting the best product, but then the only solution provided is just to buy the best product. That is not an answer or even a suggestion that is acceptable nowadays. I felt even less empowered than I did before watching the film and that is not something that an effective issue documentary does. Even worse, I had no food in the fridge and it was 10 o’clock at night, so I went to Wendy’s and got myself some food. The problems in Food Inc. didn’t seem like they were mine to solve so I enjoyed my meal guilt-free.
Up Next: I provide the thrilling conclusion to Richard Linklater’s love story by watching Before Sunset.