Monday, June 15, 2009

food inc.



NYTimes | Forget buckets of blood. Nothing says horror like one of those tubs of artificially buttered, nonorganic popcorn at the concession stand. That, at least, is one of the unappetizing lessons to draw from one of the scariest movies of the year, “Food, Inc.,” an informative, often infuriating activist documentary about the big business of feeding or, more to the political point, force-feeding, Americans all the junk that multinational corporate money can buy. You’ll shudder, shake and just possibly lose your genetically modified lunch.

Divided into chapters dedicated to points along the commercial food chain — from farm to fork, to borrow a loaded agribusiness phrase — the movie is nothing if not ambitious. “There are no seasons in the American supermarket,” the unidentified voice intones in the opening scene, as the camera sweeps the aisles of one such brightly lighted, heavily stocked if nutritionally impoverished emporium. From there the director Robert Kenner jumps all over the food map, from industrial feedlots where millions of cruelly crammed cattle mill about in their own waste until slaughter, to the chains where millions of consumers gobble down industrially produced meat and an occasional serving of E. coli bacteria.

The voice in the opening belongs to the ethical epicurean and locavore champion Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” as well as a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. (Somewhat confusingly, the movie uses voice-overs without clearly identifying who’s issuing forth on the soundtrack.) Mr. Pollan, who periodically appears on screen seated at a homey-looking table, is a great strength of “Food, Inc.,” as is one of its co-producers, Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation.” These two embodiments of conscience, together with Mr. Kenner, chart how and why the villains not only outnumber the heroes in contemporary food production, but also how and why they outbluff, outmuscle and outspend their opponents by billions of often government-subsidized dollars.