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‘Food, Inc.’: An Undercooked Documentary With Simply Too Much on Its Plate

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Average: 4.1 (31 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – The side effect of a well-executed horror film is lack of sleep. The side effect of a well-executed documentary on corruption of our food supply is lack of appetite. Personally? I left “Food, Inc.,” went straight to lunch and had a big ole’ fried-chicken salad.

Businessmen in Food, Inc., which is a Magnolia Pictures release
Businessmen in “Food, Inc.,” which is a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

This statement about my salad is not said out of any sort of support for a meat-eating versus non-meat-eating lifestyle. One’s beliefs about these things are a right and are to be respected.

The statement about my salad is made merely to point out that this documentary from Robert Kenner (director of “Two Days in October”), Eric Schlosser (author of “Fast Food Nation”) and Michael Pollan (author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma”) about the “behind the scenes” of the American food supply fails to make immediate change.

It’s certainly not that some of the information and images presented in “Food, Inc.” aren’t disturbing. They are. From cows crippled by maltreatment, pigs knee deep in their own feces and chickens toppled by genetic altering to a mother’s grief over a son lost to E. coli contamination, the film delivers in small doses what is expected in such an undertaking.

However, amid those dashes of disturbing images lies an undercooked documentary with simply too much on its plate.

The 93-minute film attempts to cover the spread and creation of bacteria and illness within the food system, the maltreatment of animals, genetics gone wrong, problems with cost, political corruption, corruption within the food manufacturers, depletion of nutrition, death and legal ramifications due to tainted food, problems with technology, patenting issues, organic versus corporate farming, problems with marketing, etc. A film series with a more in-depth look into each of these important topics may have been a better approach.

The Orozcos in Food, Inc., which is a Magnolia Pictures release
The Orozcos in “Food, Inc.,” which is a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

The lack of focus and lack of genuine substance given to almost all of these issues leaves the moviegoer fidgety and uncomfortable in their cinema seat and suddenly reminiscent of a particle-board junior-high school desk.

Unfortunately for this film, one of the most valuable elements of education is learning to separate fact from bias and to seek proof in the form of evidence. “Food, Inc.” seems to cloud the presentation with a whole lot of bias and little proof.

For example, in the opening sequence, the filmmakers are working to convince the audience that large producers of chicken (namely Tyson and Purdue) are not only mistreating animals (and their workers) but also breeding bacteria in unhealthy conditions. They do so by repeating verbally and with text on the screen that Tyson refused to let them film a chicken facility with one of its farmers (Vince Edwards) and then refused to make a statement on film (as did Purdue).

Troy Roush in Food, Inc., which is a Magnolia Pictures release
Troy Roush in “Food, Inc.,” which is a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

To have something on tape, the filmmakers then interview a farmer, Carole Morrison, who was let go from Purdue due to her facilities not being modernized. They follow her with cameras as she removes dead birds in her facility from the crowded live ones.

Both segments are simply an example of “evidence” supporting nothing. They’re inflated air time. Businesses choosing not to comment or appear in a film out to demonize them is not proof of wrongdoing (nor is it vindication).

Morrison’s angry bias is clear and, for obvious reasons, this footage can say little about the processes in Purdue’s contracted facilities (since she is no longer with the company). One wonders what kept the filmmakers from stopping the executives – Michael Moore style – in front of their offices to seek actual reactions.

Much more reliable research should be and needs to be done to support or refute many of the insinuations made by the film. There are many obvious holes in the information presented.

Barb Kowalcyk in Food, Inc., which is a Magnolia Pictures release
Barb Kowalcyk in “Food, Inc.,” which is a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

An additional example of failure in the filmmaking revolves around the team’s meetings with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Taken directly from their Web site, Polyface prides themselves on their “non-industrial food production oasis” and raising their animals with space to graze and feed naturally in an eco-friendly manner. If one chooses to eat meat but cares about animal rights, this situation is as close as one can get to ideal.

However, much of Salatin’s argument for non-industrial meat processing is made as the audience watches the team kill and butcher the chickens. For those not used to the process (i.e. most of the American public), this disturbing visual overshadows much of the positive discussed.

“Food, Inc.” is not a total loss, though, as it does touch on many valid points. Healthy and organic foods being too costly for the average consumer is a genuine concern that warrants change. Further steps should be taken to ensure safety from pesticides, bacteria and illness. Industrial food processing and marketing of unhealthy foods have gotten out of control. Political reform – including removal of people with clear bias from positions protecting the American public – should occur.

StarRead more film reviews from critic Elizabeth Oppriecht.

Within “Food, Inc.,” we hear yet another cry for the reinforcement of animal rights. One aches at images of baby chicks born into a world where they’re immediately slammed about by machinery.

One of the most disturbing images from the film is a conscious cow locked in a large device, which frames a hole created in the cow’s side that leads directly to its insides. There is little explanation for why this is done as a full-fisted man digs into the cow and prods at its stomach. PETA?

Successful in snippets as an “introductory film” to those with little knowledge of animal rights or nutrition issues, “Food, Inc.” proves to be regurgitation (of information) to those already familiar with healthy eating practices. Imagery from the film will best find its home played in front of Congress or in the classroom but will hopefully (despite its rush) resound within the general public. As a film, “Food, Inc.” with its “too much, too little” approach leaves much to be desired.

“Food, Inc.” from director Robert Kenner opened on April 3, 2009 at the Wisconsin Film Festival, in limited cities on June 12, 2009 and in Chicago on June 19, 2009. “Food, Inc.” is rated “PG” for some thematic material and disturbing images.

Elizabeth Oppriecht


© 2009 Elizabeth Oppriecht, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous's picture

1st amendment rights?

Kenner’s quote from the National Post:
“I’ve made 15 films so far in my career, and I can tell you, I’ve spent more on legal fees for Food Inc. than on all those other films combined, times three,” he says. “I could’ve been doing a movie about nuclear terrorism and had greater access to information.”
Maybe that explains it?!?
Is it normal that a film maker needs so much protection to exercise his 1st amendment rights?

Trish's picture

Fistulated cow

Thank you for the most balanced review of “Food Inc” I’ve read to date. I am a family farmer from Central, IL. I saw the film at a preview in Chicago several weeks ago.

I’d like to address this passage:
“One of the most disturbing images from the film is a conscious cow locked in a large device, which frames a hole created in the cow’s side that leads directly to its insides. There is little explanation for why this is done as a full-fisted man digs into the cow and prods at its stomach. PETA?”

I can understand your reaction to the image…seeing the fistulated cow without an explanation did exactly what the filmmakers wanted: it scared you.

Fistulated (that’s the word that describes the opening into the cow’s rumen) cows are commonly used in research situations to have access to the cow’s diet while it’s being digested. With this opportunity many things can be researched including feed ration choices and the presence of naturally occurring bacteria in the cow’s gut.

The opening is created without causing pain to the animal. Anaesthetic is used. The wound is healed carefully around the device than then allows the research team to reach in and access whatever is in the rumen.

As for the “large device,” it’s called a squeeze chute or head catch. The cow was chewing her cud in the film while in the chute, a sure sign that she was not in any distress. The chute secures the animal for her safety and the safety of the people working around her. Squeeze chutes and head catches are common tools of the livestock trade. We have such a set-up on our farm.

If you’d like to see a fistulated cow in person, make plans to attend the University of Illinois’ Veterinary Medicine Open House next spring. They always have a fistulated cow exhibited to teach everyone about how a cow digests its food.

Again, thank you for your review.

Ebeth's picture

Thank you for taking the

Thank you for taking the time to add these details. Appreciate your feedback.

Jason's picture

Immediate Applications

What we can do today is start shifting some of our meat transactions from fed-lot to free range and cageless. Switch Potates from petrochemical to organic which taste a ton better, who needs phony potate chips! Give up the repulsive corn syrup filler soft drinks and start making honey sweetened black and herbal iced teas by the pitcher.

Anonymous's picture

Great review

Great review I agree 110%!!!!!!!!!!!!!

latinamomof3's picture

I’m rating 1 because

I’m rating 1 because honestly, I went to see the movie and I don’t agree with your review. I read about fistulation and I don’t agree with it either. The reality is, our cows, our animals are not getting a good place to eat fresh grass or run and be happy, they are being treated with antibiotics because of the spread of diseases and pumped up with hormones because they have no place to exercise. These are animal mills, period not a place to grow healthy animals for human consumption. I’m no member of PETA or any animal rights groups, in fact, I’ve never speak up for animals at all and didn’t find anything wrong with eating them either. But I have honestly made the decision to become a vegetarian because of what I think now about these companies and from what I saw in this movie.

If they are not guilty of anything they should’ve not worry about offering an interview or speak up in their company’s behalf.

Anonymous11's picture

Do you know I can tell

Do you know I can tell someone is a vegetarian? They’ll tell you 20 times that they are, even though you don’t give a shit.

Food Inc is bias liberal wish wash.

DeLaney's picture

Polyface Farm

I have not seen this movie yet but as a response to your comments about Polyface Farm I think they chose to show chickens being butchered because it’s a simple fact of life for a chicken raised for human consumption. Some may find it disturbing but what I find disturbing is the covering up of slaughterhouses. Joel Salatin’s glass slaughterhouse is an ingenious idea. It lets customers see the chickens killed in a humane way, and a clean way. Slaughterhouses that are enclosed in cement cannot be seen by people outside, and rarely if one goes on a tour in these slaughterhouse are they allowed to see the kill floor. Which can be disgustingly filthy and inhumane to animals it’s slaughtering. I think that not seeing the entire process of live bird to dead bird or at the very least acknowledging the fact that the bird was a living breathing life not just a number on a production line is critical for society to start caring about where it’s food comes from.

Janine's picture

Food Inc

This was an eye opening documentary. I am glad Robert Kenner and the rest had the foresight and money do show this to the world.

Joel Salatin’s methods of raising and killing animals is great. And if people are offended at the viewing of how a chicken is killed and prepared, maybe they should wake up. The people that are not offended are those that know life exists beyond their bubble.

This was an excellently executed film. They exposed the backroom machinations of those few that own the American farmer and the American ‘way of life’.

it’s up to WE the people to stop these greedy corporations. WE need to stop buying anything made by Monsanto, Tyson, John Morell, Purdue, Smithfield. WE need to STOP trusting in corporate America, and particularly in the government.

I hope Kenner and bunch make another movie exposing how other foodstuffs
are ‘made’. Cottonseed plants are sprayed with poison to have the leaves drop so the cotton can be harvested. Where do you think cottonseed oil comes from?

People in America eat WAY too much. Me included. We have made a god out of food. We have made our bellies our god.

Eat organically, GROW your own veggie garden for pete’s sake! Get off your lazy butt and put some plants in a container if you are in an apartment!
Get some muscovy ducks if you are in the city. Great for meat and give eggs too.

Our bodies were made to last a long time. However, it’s up to each of us to decide if we are going to allow the drug companies and food companies of America to put us in the ground early, or if we are going to be healthy, due to WE the PEOPLE taking back the reins of what we eat, how much and where we get it from.

Bravo Robert Kenner et al! BRAVO Well done documentary.

Jeremy's picture

I disagree with this review

I give this film 5/5.

Criticizing a documentary because it wasn’t formatted into a series (a la Planet Earth) is plain silly. This is a film meant to introduce the horrors of food manufacturing to the average American who doesn’t know much about this issue (or the food they eat). In under two hours, the viewer becomes aware of the current practices, policies, laws, and major players involved with food production in the U.S.A. The advantages to presenting this information as a single documentary as opposed to a series are numerous. For instance, it seems the average person will more likely watch a single film rather than a number of “satellite” films. For example, I love the Planet Earth series, but I still haven’t seen ALL the DVDs. Perhaps more relevant is the fact I (as well as many others) don’t like spending (or don’t have the choice to spend) money on large sets of DVDs. So you must ask what format has the largest impact on Americans. The format which is easy and affordable to watch, or the format which has more content (a series), but may not be viewed by everyone (particularly those individuals who need to see it the most - those belonging to the low income category).

As for fearing that people will react negatively to the organic and humane chicken killings on Salatin’s farm (thus miss the point), you really don’t give much credit to your fellow country men and women in this case. First of all, if these people are eating meat to begin with, they ought to know the animal on their plate must have been killed for the purposes of consumption. If they are turned off of this organic and humane practice by seeing this reality of death, they have no place eating meat at all. You and I both know that when compared to the practices of corporate slaughter houses, Salatin’s methods are ideal - so why then, should any American meat eater feel differently? The truth is, they probably don’t.

Great film, highly recommended!

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