Jim Poyser: "Food Inc." is food for thought 

In the intro to Food, Inc., writer Michael Pollan narrates the following: "The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000." Pollan, who wrote Omnivore's Dilemma then adds: "The imagery we use to sell the food is still ... agrarian America."

Pollan emphasizes that our food now comes from factories, not farms. Factories where animals - and the workers - are being abused.

Take a ride with Pollan, filmmaker Robert Kenner and others through grocery stores and into restaurants and slaughterhouses - and be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole into a world of year-round tomatoes, genetically modified crop seeds and humans killed by ingesting E coli.

Section one of Food, Inc. focuses on the work of writer Eric Schlosser, whose book Fast Food Nation was made into a not-that-great-a film by the great director, Richard Linklater. Food, Inc. begins with fast food, for as Schlosser says, the "industrial food system began with fast food."

And how do you start with fast food, without addressing the primordial fast food: McDonald's - the largest buyer of ground beef in the country. And since they want their hamburgers to taste exactly the same everywhere you go, you can see a compelling reason why farms are now factories.

To feed the voracious appetite for fast and cheap food, chickens are now raised to slaughter in half the time - and at twice as size. Says one chicken farmer, "if you can grow a chicken 49 days, why would you want a chicken that takes three months to grow?" A couple reasons explored in the film involve the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics (which are administered to the animals in a "preventative" gesture) as well as the fact that the animals' bone structure can't keep up with the growth of their meat, and so can't walk - even if there was room to move in their packed animal enclosures.

By and large, farmers are reluctant to talk about corporate farming, whether they raise animals for slaughter or grow Monsanto crops for harvesting. One farmer does talk and her heartbreaking account — along with hidden camera footage of heartless chicken wranglers — is enough to make you wonder why you ever eat meat.

In section two, Pollan riffs from his work, especially Omnivore's Dilemma. "Corn has conquered the world," he states, pointing out that the big fat kernel of starch pretty much finds its way into most of the products you find on the grocery shelves and beyond (disposable diapers, for example).

Evolution designed cows to eat grass — not corn — but corn is cheaper (encouraged by government subsidizing). And the conditions are ripe that new strains of E coli will be created— spread by the manure that cows stand in as they're being slaughtered in the slaughterhouse.

I figured I'd experience anger and guilt watching this film. Anger at how animals are treated, at how corporations control the content and presentation (the labeling — or lack thereof) of food.

Guilt because I still eat meat, though avoid fast food restaurants, and shop for the "grass fed" options whenever possible.

But I did not think that I would cry watching this film.

But as Food, Inc. begins to follow food safety advocates as they try and communicate issues of concern to their government, the story moves into heart-wrenching territory. One advocate turns out to be a mother - a mother whose two and half year old son, she tells us, "went from perfectly healthy to dead in 12 days ... from eating [E coli contaminated] meat."

Home movie footage of this now dead child is enough to send you running for the aisles, but fortunately Food, Inc. is also here to create solutions. A good portion of the film is directed toward remedies to our corporate-dominated food world. If you enjoyed Omnivore's Dilemma, you get to see in living color, the irascible and fascinating Joel Salatin, whose Polyface Farms is testimony to how a farmer can create nutritious, pesticide-free food in a balanced ecosystem.

We visit with Gary Hirshberg, the owner of Stoneyfield Farms, whose organic yogurt is another exemplary foodstuff - and is now being featured on Wal-Mart shelves.

Still, when you learn what happens to these corporately-raised animals, and the stranglehold (by government and corporations) over our farms and farmers, and facts like 1 in 3 children born in the United States after 2000 will develop diabetes ... well, Food, Inc. might just give you heartburn.

As Pollan says toward the end: "I think it's one of the most important battles for consumers to fight: The right to know what's in your food and how it's grown. Not only do they not want you to know what's in it, they've managed to make it against the law to criticize their products."

But criticize we can, three meals a day, by learning what is in the food we're buying, by buying in season, and by buying local. And by saying bye-bye to fast food, period.

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Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser

Bio:
Jim Poyser is Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide organization that was one of over two dozen nonprofit partners in Greening the Statehouse. A former managing editor of NUVO, he won HEC’s Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2013.

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