Food. What was once an abundant, cherished source of nutrition and spirit has been turned into a cold, destructive big business by those looking to profit wildly by exploiting a necessity. The ambitious documentary "Food, Inc." seeks to cover the wide range of food ills and agrarian perversions, hopeful to showcase a growing corporate movement that's removed the purity of consumption to turn a fast buck, using abusive attitudes, fallible safety precautions, and unhealthy ingredients to keep the food flowing.
The inspiration for "Food, Inc." comes from Eric Schlosser's landmark investigative book "Fast Food Nation" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan (both men are interviewed in the film). The ultimate question raised by the authors and director Robert Kenner is this: where does our food come from? Inundated with supermarkets and shops of all sorts flush with product, selling a cheery pastoral landscape image for consumer reassurance, the food industry has managed to keep the business particulars quiet. Pollan and his team of commentators would like to change all that.
Divided into segments that cover the wide range of offenses and curiosities, "Food, Inc." shows remarkable patience with its subject. This is not a whirlwind of mass hysteria or a Michael Moore-winged snapshot of bile. Pollan keeps his head about him as he calmly surveys the markets, farms, plants, boardrooms, and restaurants for an answer as to why the populace has allowed the molestation of food production to go unchallenged. Of course, there's no single answer to solve the world's troubles, leaving Pollan to paint broadly on his screen canvas to make salient points about the mechanics of the food industry and how cost-saving measures influence manufacturing standards.
Not surprisingly, the journey starts with McDonald's and how the company's factory-floor ideas helped fuel the fast food revolution and instigated the colossal manipulation of the cattle and chicken industry as we know it today. From there, "Food, Inc." discusses the toxic miracle of mass corn production (deconstructed more precisely in "King Corn"); the rise of the primary food corporations (going from scores to a handful over the last 50 years); issues of food safety and the terror of E. coli; agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto's bullying techniques to essentially "own food" through absurd soybean patents and hostile legal enforcement; the birth of the organic movement; the battle to label genetically altered food; the boom of the dollar value menu and the rise of obesity via economic reality; the trials of the independent farmer; and the saga of the undocumented and untrained food worker.
Of course, the road to ruin is lined with money and corruption. "Food, Inc." underlines governmental interference from those who previously worked for the offending corporations, abusing the system during the Clinton and Bush terms. It seems at the core of every societal problem lies a great reservoir of fraud. It's unavoidable these days.
Consumer power is the ultimate goal of "Food, Inc." The documentary is hoping to encourage audiences to seek out alternative products at the grocery store, to support independent farms, and promote education when it comes to food origins. "Food, Inc." can run a little dry here and there when swamped in the particulars, but its message is a valuable one; a stirring call to arms where passion outweighs realism, but it makes for eye-opening conversation nonetheless.