Food, Inc. lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing how our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the — livelihood of the American ... more »farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. Food, Inc. reveals surprising and often shocking truths about what we eat, how it's produced and who we have become as a nation.
Q&A with Producer/Director Robert Kenner, Co-Producer/Food Expert Eric Schlosser, Food Expert Michael Pollan and Producer Elise Pearlstein
How did this film initially come about?
Kenner: Eric Schlosser and I had been wanting to do a documentary version of his book, Fast Food Nation. And, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. By the time Food, Inc. started to come together, we began talking and realized that all food has become like fast food, and all food is being created in the same manner as fast food. How has fast food changed the food we buy at the supermarket?
Schlosser: The enormous buying power of the fast food industry helped to transform the entire food production system of the United States. So even when you purchase food at the supermarket, you?re likely to be getting products that came from factories, feedlots and suppliers that emerged to serve the fast food chains. How many years did it take to do this film and what were the challenges?
Kenner: From when Eric and I began talking, about 6 or 7 years. The film itself about 2 ½ years. It has taken a lot longer than we expected because we were denied access to so many places. Pearlstein: When Robby brought me into the project, he was adamant about wanting to hear all sides of the story, but it was nearly impossible to gain access onto industrial farms and into large food corporations. They just would not let us in. It felt like it would have been easier to penetrate the Pentagon than to get into a company that makes breakfast cereal. The legal challenges on this film were also unique. We found it necessary to consult with a first amendment lawyer throughout the entire filming process. Who or what influenced your film?
Kenner: This film was really influenced by Eric Schlosser and Fast Food Nation, but then as we were progressing and had actually gotten funding, it became very influenced as well by Michael Pollan and his book Omnivore?s Dilemma. And then, as we went out into the world, we became really incredibly influenced by a lot of the farmers we met. What was the most surprising thing you learned?
Kenner: As we set out to find out how our food was made, I think the thing that really became most shocking is when we were talking to a woman, Barbara Kowalcyk, who had lost her son to eating a hamburger with E. coli, and she?s now dedicated her life to trying to make the food system safer. It?s the only way she can recover from the loss of her child. But when I asked her what she eats, she told me she couldn't tell me because she would be sued if she answered. Or we see Carol possibly losing her chicken farm ? or we see Moe, a seed cleaner who?s just being sued for amounts that there?s no way he can pay, even though he?s not guilty of anything. Then we realized there?s something going on out there that supersedes foods. Our rights are being denied in ways that I had never imagined. And it was scary and shocking. And that was my biggest surprise. So, what does our current industrialized food system say about our values as a nation?
Pollan: It says we value cheap, fast and easy when it comes to food like so many other things, and we have lost any connection to where our food comes from. Kenner: I met a cattle rancher and he said, you know, we used to be scared of the Soviet Union or we used to think we were so much better than the Soviet Union because we had many places to buy things. And we had many choices. We thought if we were ever taken over, we?d be dominated where we?d have to buy one thing from one company, and how that?s not the American way. And he said you look around now, and there?s like one or two companies dominating everything in the food world. We?ve become what we were always terrified of. And that just always haunted me ? how could this happen in America? It seems very un-American that we would be so dominated, and then so intimidated by the companies that are dominating this marketplace. How has the revolving door relationship between giant food companies and Washington affected the food industry?
Pearlstein: We discovered that the food industry has managed to shape a lot of laws in their favor. For example, massive factory farms are not considered real factories, so they are exempt from emissions standards that other factories face. A surprising degree of regulation is voluntary, not mandatory, which ends up favoring the industry. What have been the consequences for the American consumer?
Kenner: Most American consumers think that we are being protected. But that is not the case. Right now the USDA does not have the authority to shut down a plant that is producing contaminated meat. The FDA and the USDA have had their inspectors cut back. And it?s for these companies now to self-police, and what we?ve found is, when there?s a financial interest involved, these companies would rather make the money and be sued than correct it. Self-policing has really just been a miserable failure. And I think that's been really quite harmful to the American consumer and to the American worker. Pearlstein: The food industry has succeeded in keeping some very important information about their products hidden from consumers. It?s outrageous that genetically modified foods don?t need to be labeled. Today more than 70% of processed foods in the supermarket are genetically modified and we have absolutely no way of knowing. Whatever your position, you should have the right to make informed choices, and we don?t. Now the FDA is contemplating whether or not to label meat and milk from cloned cows. It seems very basic that consumers should have the right to know if they?re eating a cloned steak. Is it possible to feed a nation of millions without this kind of industrialized processing?
Pollan: Yes. There are alternative ways of producing food that could improve Americans? health. Quality matters as much as quantity and yield is not the measure of a healthy food system. Quantity improves a population?s health up to a point; after that, quality and diversity matters more. And it?s wrong to assume that the industrialized food system is feeding everyone well or keeping the population healthy. It?s failing on both counts. There is a section of the film that reveals how illegal immigrants are the faceless workers that help to bring food to our tables. Can you give us a profile of the average worker?
Schlosser: The typical farm worker is a young, Latino male who does not speak English and earns about $10,000 a year. The typical meatpacking worker has a similar background but earns about twice that amount. A very large proportion of the nation?s farm workers and meatpackers are illegal immigrants. Why are there so many Spanish-speaking workers?
Kenner: The same thing that created obesity in this country, which is large productions of cheap corn, has put farmers out of work in foreign countries, whether it?s Mexico, Latin America or around the world. And those farmers can no longer grow food and compete with the U.S.? subsidized food. So a lot of these farmers needed jobs and ended up coming into this country to work in our food production. And they have been here for a number of years. But what?s happened is that we?ve decided that it?s no longer in the best interests of this country to have them here. But yet, these companies still need these people and they?re desperate, so they work out deals where they can have a few people arrested at a certain time so it doesn?t affect production. But it affects people?s lives. And these people are being deported, put in jail and sent away, but yet, the companies can go on and it really doesn?t affect their assembly line. And what happens is that they are replaced by other, desperate immigrant groups. Could the American food industry exist without illegal immigrants?
Schlosser: The food industry would not only survive, but it would have a much more stable workforce. We would have much less rural poverty. And the annual food bill of the typical American family would barely increase. Doubling the hourly wage of every farm worker in this country might add $50 at most to a family?s annual food bill. What are scientists doing to our food and is it about helping food companies? bottom line or about feeding a growing population?
Schlosser: Some scientists are trying to produce foods that are healthier, easier to grow, and better for the environment. But most of the food scientists are trying to create things that will taste good and can be made cheaply without any regard to their social or environmental consequences. I am not opposed to food science. What matters is how that science is used ? and for whose benefit. Can a person eat a healthy diet from things they buy in the supermarket if they are not buying organic? If so, how?
Pollan: Yes, the supermarkets still carry real food. The key is to shop the perimeter of the store and stay out of the middle where most of the processed food lurks. How are low-income families impacted at the supermarket?
Kenner: Things are really stacked against low-income families in this country. There is a definite desire of the food companies to sell more product to these people because they have less time, they?re working really hard and they have fewer hours in their day to cook. And the fast food is very reasonably priced. Coke is selling for less than water. So when these things are happening, it?s easier for low-income families sometimes to just go in and have a quick meal if they don?t get home until 10 o?clock at night. At the moment, our food is unfairly priced towards bad food. And, in the same way that tobacco companies went after low-income people because they were heavy users, food companies are going after low-income people because they can market to them, they can make it look very appealing. What can low-income families do to eat healthier?
Schlosser: As much as possible, they can avoid cheap, processed foods and fast foods. It?s possible to eat well and inexpensively. But it takes more time and effort to do so, and that?s not easy when you?re working two jobs and trying to just to keep your head above water. The sad thing is that these cheap foods are ultimately much more expensive when you factor in the costs of all the health problems that come later. Pollan: It?s possible to eat healthy food on a budget but it takes a greater investment of time. If you are willing to cook and plan ahead, you can eat local, sustainable food on a budget. If someone wanted to get involved and help change the system, what would you suggest they do?
Pearlstein: I hope people will want to be more engaged in the process of eating and shopping for food. We have learned that there are a lot of different fronts to fight on this one, and people can see what most resonates with them. Maybe it?s really just ?voting with their forks? ? eating less meat, buying different food, buying from companies they feel good about, going to farmers markets. People can try to find a CSA ? community supported agriculture ? where you buy a share in a farm and get local food all year. That really helps support farmers and you get fresh, seasonal food. On the local political level, people can work on food access issues, like getting more markets into low income communities, getting better lunch programs in schools, trying to get sodas out of schools. And on a national level, we?ve learned that reforming the Farm Bill would have a huge influence on our food system. It requires some education, but it is something we should care about. What do you hope people take away from this film?
Schlosser: I hope it opens their eyes. Kenner: That things can change in this country. It changed against the big tobacco companies. We have to influence the government and readjust these scales back into the interests of the consumer. We did it before, and we can do it again. Pollan: A deeper knowledge of where their food comes from and a sense of outrage over how their food is being produced and a sense of hope and possibility of the alternatives springing up around the country. Food, Inc. is the most important and powerful film about our food system in a generation.« less
Alicia S. (Al) from CHANDLER, AZ Reviewed on 4/17/2013...
Outstanding film to help explain the sources of food in America. You cannot watch this film and remain ignorant of the food you consume. Although a few parts of the film are difficult to stomach (pardon the pun), it is a must-see documentary! Perhaps the saddest thing from the film is the abuse that small, local farmers have endured from corporate farming.
Charles D. from MELVILLE, NY Reviewed on 12/7/2011...
good movie. makes you think about all food we eat
Andrea C. from EAST PALATKA, FL Reviewed on 8/15/2010...
this movie is horrifying and disgusting to watch but the information is so important I'm insisting my friends and family watch it. I'm not trying to convert them to be vegetarians like I am, I'm just trying to make them educated consumers of meat. The film contains interesting interviews with farmers and food industry advocates. Don't watch it right before a meal! Sorry, I will never re-post this DVD since I will be passing it around my community.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Heather F. (8izenuff) from PHOENIX, AZ Reviewed on 7/1/2010...
If you expecting a horrific, movie showing how we poorly we grow and slaughter animals, you will not find that here. It is not all about the terrible ingredients in food. This is a movie about BIG government, industrial food processing in the USA, and how we are lied to about the monopoly in the USA that controls the food production.
You will find topics, of meat processing conglomerates, chicken farmers, Monsanto patented soybean monopolies, and corn being the basis of our food system and food safety.
You wont go away wanting to be a vegetarian. You really wont be able to do much of anything with the info they gave you. You cant really lobby government or big industries. But it sends a message that you can orchestrate change with your pocketbook by buying at farmers markets and purchasing organic, and local food sources.
Although it presented new info about food, It dragged and I was checking the clock to see how much longer this movie was going to last. The only really positive story line was about Organic Stonyfieds company. You will find from that those small organic companies have been bought out by Kraft and Pepsi.
It is not a keeper. But you should find time to watch it.
3 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Essential viewing---you need to look under the veil
loce_the_wizard | Lilburn, GA USA | 05/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Food, Inc." does more than serve as an exposé on the United States food industry--it connects the dots between the nefarious, contemptuous business practices of multinational corporations and their best friends, the compromised government regulatory agencies such as the USDA, FDA, and EPA, who have in the past been led by folks well connected within the very industries they are supposed to regulate.
But let's hold on a minute. Filmmaker Robert Kenner's documentary could have been just a dour, paranoid investigative piece and still told the truth. Instead, Mr. Kenner has made a color, fast-paced, and well-documented account of the state of the food supply in our country; the unintended consequences of the efficiencies, short-cuts, and technological methods inherent in factory farming; the insidious insider relationship between the meat industry and the agencies that should be regulating it; and the health effects, including diabetes, of consuming processed foods and fast foods.
Naturally, the culprits behind the curtain (e.g., Smithfield, Monsanto, Perdue) would not appear on camera, not because they are cowards but precisely because they are so powerfully connected, and have legions of lawyers and enforcers (yes, like any bully, these outfits do use intimidation), and are moving to control free speech and criticism of their practices.
The counterbalance to the doom and gloom comes from interview with small farmers; with entrepreneurs in the organic food business; and with brave folks who have tried to make a stand against the food industry; and with those experts who are striving to be modern day Paul Reveres in the face of mass indifference.
Kenner uses photography and imagery to make his points, and he interlaces this film with scenes of amazing beauty and graphic cruelty. "Food, Inc." is not an easy film to watch, and it should not be. Kenner uses the final frames to deliver some to-do's for those who want to respond to the film not just in conversation but through action. As trite as it sounds, if you can only see one movie this year, go to this one. (When the negative review start cropping up for this movie, it would be interesting to see how many of those are from food industry insiders and their minions.)
A food monoculture
Luc REYNAERT | Beernem, Belgium | 05/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Kenner's movie is a perfect illustration of F. William Engdahl's book `Seeds of Destruction', which explains how international agribusinesses are trying to monopolize vertically and horizontally (and profit from) food production on a world scale.
The world's food chain is built mainly on heavily subsidized and, therefore, cheap corn. In fact, all humans chew corn the whole day long from bread over meat (all animals are fed with corn) to deserts and drinks. Transnational corporations are even trying to learn fish to eat corn. Corn becomes nearly a food monoculture. A particular transnational company even developed through genetic engineering highly efficient corn seed which it patented, thereby creating a nearly seed monopoly. Buyers cannot use the produce of the seeds as plant seed for future harvests. The company's own inspection force controls with hawk eyes that its clients buy new genetically modified seed every year. Some of the company's supporters and former directors occupy key positions in US governments and government administrations (FDA).
The movie shows the disastrous effects of intensive farming on animals, as well as the health and environmental risks of diminished standards at livestock farming and slaughtering houses. Fortunately, some biological farmers show more respect for their animals and for their clients.
At the end of the movie, the makers give a perfect list of recommendations for those wishing to eat `healthy' food.
This movie is a must see for all those who want to understand the world we live in. "
This is the movie that the American public needs to see.
Brandon E. Baker | 04/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What can be more important than the food you eat? This is the movie that the American public needs to see. This movie deals with issues that each and every one of us faces every day--without even knowing it. Covering all sorts of food-related issues, from animal cruelty to the agricultural triumph of corn, this movie will leave you more informed than you were before, and will empower you to make a difference, at least in your own buying habits.
Take the time to watch. We're all slaves to the food system--at least educate yourself to how it works."
Do you still want that $1 hamburger?
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 06/17/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"How many times do we have to see horror stories about how our food, the food we eat, the food that goes into our bodies is handled, before we stand up and do something about it? Apparently, many because we still haven't done anything.
"Food, Inc.", directed by Robert Kenner, and co-produced by Eric Schlosser (writer of "Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan (writer of "The Omnivore's Dilemma), takes an in depth view at a handful of various problems with the food industry in our country. Presented in "Chapters", Schlosser or Pollan introduce the various segments leading into a series of graphics, interviews, archival and hidden camera footage and more all of which illustrates the problems we are facing.
Did you know that Chickens have been engineered to grow faster and larger, in order to produce more breast meat? The companies who provide us with chicken realized a while back that we prefer white meat. When a customer prefers something, it is more efficient to grow what the customer wants. White meat is also more expensive, so it is a win-win situation for these companies to fulfill our needs and wants. But what about the dark meat? The result? Engineered chickens ready for slaughter faster and yielding more white meat. But it also results in chickens with no flavor that are grown in very inhumane conditions. Most never see sunlight and can't walk for very long because their internal organs can't keep up with the growth of their bodies.
For many years, corn farmers have lobbied lawmakers for protection and subsidies, and this has created an overwhelming abundance of corn. Because there is so much of the grain, scientists have worked out many ways to use the abundant staple, to prevent wasting it, and to maximize profits. One of these, high fructose corn syrup, is now in a majority of the items we consume. But they also decided to start feeding the corn to cattle animals that are supposed to eat grass. There is a by-product of this new practice; e-coli bacteria. When the cattle eat this feed, they have a higher chance of creating the bacteria. And the fact they are contained in small lots, with barely enough room to move around, standing knee deep in their own feces for hours every day, doesn't help the situation.
Why do we raise the majority of the cattle in this country in such a fashion? Because the fast food industry (McDonalds purchases the most ground beef in the world) wants cheap beef. If they can feed the cattle more cheaply, those savings are passed on to the large chains and are then passed on to the consumer through "Dollar" and "Value" menus.
These are just two of the stories the film follows in detail. Providing a lot of information, the filmmakers connect the dots to illustrate why our food production system is in need of some drastic changes.
If we don't change it, we are going to continue to get sick, some of us will continue to die. And it is all preventable.
Why do we allow it to continue? A handful of very large companies control all of the production of our processed foods. They lobby Congress and the Senate, getting the lawmakers to protect them. They don't have to do anything about it. When there is an outbreak, they make some minor changes, but as we saw from the E-Coli outbreak in hamburger, it happened a few times and will no doubt happen again.
People are getting the message. Organic foods, farmer's markets and grocery chains like Whole Foods are becoming more and more prevalent popping up to meet the needs of a growing, more selective clientele.
Are you getting the message?
Or do you still want that hamburger that only costs $1?"
An important movie that everyone should see
Anne Masterson | CT United States | 08/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw Food, Inc. several days ago and many of the images still haunt me. The essence of this movie is how food production in America has gone from being locally produced to being controlled by multi-national corporations. The upside of this is that food is cheaper and more plentiful. This movie examines the downside, which is horrifying.
All livestock (including fish) are now fed some sort of corn meal, regardless of whether this is what the would eat under ordinary circumstances. For example, cows eat grass. If they eat something else, it causes extra bacteria, including e-coli to grow in its stomach. To treat this they are given antibiotics. Milking cows are fed hormones to speed up milk production. Chickens are fed so much corn to fat them up many cannot walk and they break their legs trying. Or the legs get infected and they are given antibiotics. One chicken farmer showed a "typical" day in the coop where she would go in and scoop up a dozen dead birds and through them on a gargabe heap. Lest it sound one sided, the large corporations were invited to participate in the movie and declined.
While parts of this movie are difficult to watch, ultimately it ends on a high note that we, as the consumer, have the power to change food production processes. As one farmer pointed out, you wouldn't buy the cheapest car or the cheapest clothes, so why apply the same philosophy to the purchase and consumption of food.