Monday, June 7, 2010

Maggie 2010: Maggie Likes Things, Too! Part 3 of 4

#75. Food, Inc

I know what you're thinking: Seen one food industry criticism piece, seen 'em all. But what perhaps makes Food, Inc stick out so notably is the way it takes a tremendous body of commonly understood (at least for any eco-conscious foodie) information about best-we-can-get-away-with big business practices, and constructs very clear, well-synthesized, and yet still nuanced arguments about how the food industry has changed over the last few generations.

Included in this piece are arguments about the shift towards monopolization of key food industries by corporate enterprise with the aim of maximizing profit through the delivery of cheap food en masse. This is handily followed by an explanation of key biochemical crises that necessarily emerge from the grouping together of meat production in staggeringly large factory environments, and exceptional deconstructions of how these processes harm the workers, introduce less than best practices for the animals, and compromise the consumer. There are times in this piece when anyone who grew up with basic rhetoric training will chafe, necessarily, at the high-handed commentary being introduced in the narrator's soothing, even-keeled voice, but the documentary has some checks and balances for this--one of the most notable being the priority it places on farmer testimony during one-on-one interviews.

Farmers, viewers will note, are startlingly affected by this corporate monopolization, being sold essentially into indentured servitude via company business practices that necessarily place them under debt not only to acquire start-up equipment but also to keep their company contracts by agreeing to go into further debt (and/or cut into whatever meagre profit margin they manage) to pay for ludicrous upgrades and maintenance tasks over the years. If the abuse of immigrant and minority labour doesn't get you; if the wholesale abuse of the animals doesn't get you; if the health scares caused by creating giant factory-line production houses for our food doesn't get you; maybe the fact that the front-line farmers, the icons of the food industry itself, are being wholly cheated out of a viable career will leave you changed after viewing this film.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it won't be the scary negatives exposed by this film that affect you, but the fact that Food, Inc offers an alternative: throughout its deconstruction of mass market corporate food empires, the film also introduces you to a small, free-range farm solution that works. You see how animals are prepared by hand for delivery; you hear how the owner refuses to expand his business despite its booming success; you observe how well integrated the act of supporting animals in life is with his farming philosophy. Many such anti-big business films don't show viable alternatives, but Food, Inc has found a fine balance between pointing to overarching trends, identifying individual narratives of strife, and creating personable alternatives. If ever I needed to introduce a skeptic to a food industry piece that would help spark a conversation about current North American consumption practices, Food, Inc would most decidedly be it.

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