Another Movie Blasts Food System

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If you're the kind of person who likes a good conspiracy theory, the summer's latest box-office horror flick should suit you well. Food, Inc. is a documentary by Robert Kenner featuring a diverse cast of earnest, hardworking Americans who want to help you lose weight -- without the hassle of regular exercise or personal responsibility.

The antagonist? Faceless corporations, of course, and you'll be amazed by the drastic lengths they go to in order to ensure that Americans stay fat and sick.

Most of the film's blatant misrepresentations of the truth are countered at the great site, but why spoil the plot twists for everyone? Let's set the scene. The movie's trailer begins with sweeping imagery of a modern farm while the disembodied voice of Eric Schlosser asserts: "The way we eat has changed more in the past fifty years than in the previous ten thousand." This is followed by a barrage of similarly dramatic insinuations that our modern food industry is in an Orwellian state of decay.

Of course, the same could be said of almost all modern technology, and that's a good thing. Yes, progress isn't always a beneficial thing (cigarettes are relatively modern), but at issue is whether advances in the growing and production of food are causing more harm than good, as so many people today are beginning to believe.
Hormones and genetic engineering are tools used by many sufficiently advanced food corporations, and just as the market dictates their necessity, so the universal demand for safety encourages their proper investigation and regulation. Food, Inc., however, is filled with spooky accounts of super-chickens and other seemingly weird results of productivity enhancers. However, seemingly oversized or hyper-productive animals can be explained straightforwardly, without any creepy music, by the industry's improved understanding of animal nutrition and selective breeding, both of which have surely been around in some form for the past ten thousand years.

Even if more advanced techniques involving genetic engineering, cloning, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics are now utilized to increase or stabilize supply, the fact that the science behind them is esoteric doesn't mean they are dangerous. If the creative minds behind this movie had cared to look at epidemiological studies that demonstrate the safety of these modern tools, they wouldn't have a horror film, they'd have a feel-good movie.

The film-making activists would prefer, of course, to show the wholesome old-fashioned farmer battling evil agribusiness. Who could be against charming, intimate, local, organic farms that are tended the same way they were ten thousand years ago? But in reality, even these utopias will be exposed to various forms of contamination -- in some ways, more so, since they use animal manure and do not avail themselves of precise and safe chemical fertilizers.

Not only does large-scale, centralized production make more efficient use of limited capital like land, but when mishaps do occur -- and they will -- it makes finding and addressing the problem a matter of minimal expenditure. If you think government oversight is inefficient now, imagine the FDA having to station investigators at every American's organic, backyard garden.
Food, Inc. is not all doom and gloom, though. They want you to remember that you are empowered to make a difference. Eric Schlosser invites you to "look at the tobacco industry. The battle against tobacco is the perfect model of how an industry's irresponsible behavior can be changed." It's a bit strange, though, to compare products that can kill you even when used as directed (like cigarettes) and products that you can't live without (like food).

Apocalyptic talk about the dismal state of our food supply neglects an important point: 98% of the farms in the U.S. are owned by individuals, family partnerships, or family corporations. There are plenty of local, organic options in our modern supermarkets, and it's your prerogative to pay the premiums for those products if it makes you happy -- even though it won't make you any healthier. (Paying higher prices to offset the greater cost of inefficient agricultural methods will make you poorer, though, and that isn't generally good for your health.)

The bountiful marketplace is so full of options that you can even find movies that condemn corporations for finding newer, more efficient, safer ways to produce and distribute food.