So yesterday, I did it, I bit the Bullet, I watched Food Inc. This well known documentary on the North American food system has caused quite a stir and a lot of people in the agriculture community are not happy about it. I’m not sure what or if that is going to change anything. The movie is in my opinion very well written, but also clearly biased against industrial agriculture, but in no means 1 sided. The movie looks at many different sectors of the industry from GMO’s to livestock processing, food safety and fast food restaurants and draws some strong conclusions about fundamental flaws of the system in general. Joel Salatin a pasture based livestock farmer and a leader of the alternative food movement sums it up well when he says, ” I’m always struck by how successful we have been at hitting the bullseye of the wrong target.” The movie as a whole presents some very strong arguments and shows examples in surprisingly neutral means.
There are examples in the film of footage from Joel Salatin’s farm Polyface, where he is bailing hay in a rolling meadow which may be deemed by some as glorifying un-realistic images of alternative agriculture. I feel that the pairing of these images with the images of the Salatin’s butchering chickens by hand and their pigs digging through a manure bedding pack to find fermented corn means that the filmmakers have shown an unbiased representation of this clearly unique farm. They have also shown as un-biased images as they were legally allowed too of the conventional agricultural system, discussing the positive impact of the chicken industry on local economies and the negatives as well.
Unfortunately it was also filled with legal roadblocks, companies such as Tyson and Monsanto declined interviews for the film and pressured farmers into not accepting camera’s on their farms or in their barns. They do not mention the possibility of biological contamination but the unwillingness of companies to open their doors to the media does not cast a positive light on the companies themselves. The filmmakers take great care to make their statements about these companies neutral and factual, and yet the companies end up having a negative casting over them in the film. Monsanto has posted a website of responses to the film, but asides from saying that many of the comments made by people in the film that Monsanto has sued are ungrounded, the rest of the website disputes ideas not directly stated in the movie.
The film also takes a closer look at some of the issues of alternative food systems and some of the different ideas about how these alternatives should take shape. They took on the issues of price differences between healthy alternatives and cheap fast food, and the health and social impacts of those in-equalities. They also examine the differences between farmers like Joel Salatin who has no want to expand his farm or try to get his products into Walmart. As compared to the mainstream organic yogurt company Stoneyfeild Farm, which is the number 3 yogurt brand in the United States and caters to major distributers like Walmart. Coincidentally Walmart is shockingly, at least to me, one of the only major corporations that comes away with a positive image in this movie as they were open to the film and discussed their goals and flaws on camera.
All in all I felt the film was incredibly well written and took a surprisingly balanced look at the food system, with many solid cases being built to point out the short comings of industrial agriculture. I think all farmers and agriculture industry members should watch the film. In the end, I hope that the industry takes this movie seriously, as its not a perfect in depth analysis of the food system it is very persuasive especially to those without a background in agriculture.