Food, Inc.: Taking a closer look at the food you eat

January 4, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More

Tonight, my wife and I watched Food, Inc., a highly informative 90-minute documentary that takes a close look at the food we eat and where it comes from. We were expecting to see many revolting pictures of animals being butchered. There certainly were a fair amount of butchering scenes, although the creators of the film constantly focused on presenting useful information rather than trying to shock the viewer. This video was not made to appeal unfairly to the emotions. It was made to present compelling information about an important series of food-related issues. Watching this video reminded me of something that was quite disturbing. The mainstream media and our own government do not starkly peel back the happy veneer of the food production industry. Thus, Food, Inc. also serves as a meta-indictment of those failed institutions of government and the media.

Each of the eleven topics covered was compelling, and each of them was presented with a fair amount of balance, despite the fact that most of the corporations running factory farms refused to appear in the video. Consider that Wal-Mart (and a few other companies) was presented as a corporation that was actually trying to make some changes that would benefit the health of Americans-it was not presented as a perfect corporation, but it was given credit for trying to make some changes in the right direction. One corporation in the video was presented as notoriously evil: Monsanto, based in my hometown of St. Louis Missouri. What else could you say about a corporation that refuses to allow farmers to use seeds from their crops, and surreptitiously watches farmers with a team of 75 intimidating investigators, bringing many of them to court for daring to reuse their seeds. This has never before happened in the history of the world that a farmer has lost the right to use his or her own seed crop as he or she wants. If you’re thinking, “Well, they should never have signed up to buy that genetically modified seed in the first place,” the video will have you thinking again. Some of the victims are non-Monsanto-customer farmers in nearby fields, who were forced to defend themselves in court at great expense after Monsanto accused them of illegally using Montana’s product, whereas the seeds often blow onto their property from neighbors’ fields. The episode about the seed-washer sued by Monsanto is heartbreaking.

After watching Food Inc., you’ll never think the same way about corn. I’m not talking about enjoying a fresh meal of corn on the cob–get that image out of your head. I’m talking about highly processed corn. Almost anything you might purchase at a typical grocery store is pumped full of empty calories and questionable substances derived from processed corn (and soybeans). If you’re wondering why corn-based sodas and chips are so cheap, and broccoli and peas are so expensive, the answer lies in federal subsidies controlled by huge agribusinesses. Imagine a world where healthy foods were cheap and where foods injected with corn fructose were not subsidized– that’s certainly not the world in which we live. The video reveals that many of the purportedly great variety of fast foods are actually dressed up processed corn.

One of the most memorable lines for me was uttered by an especially articulate man who raises organic meat (you know, where animals were not confined in small dark spaces and forced to eat corn, but are actually allowed to eat grass and to graze). He suggested that if huge meat factories (chicken, hogs and beef) were forced to make their factories with transparent walls, people would stop buying their products. It was interesting that the only footage from inside the factory farms was through the use of hidden cameras. The big factory farms refused to give tours to the producers. One exception was a woman farmer who had had enough of it, and went on camera to give a tour of her chicken farm, which was actually run in a much more humane way than most of the dark enclosed factories where the great majority of America’s chickens are raised and slaughtered. Even her operation, considerably more humane than most factory farms (it actually was open to sunlight) still wasn’t a pretty sight.

Another thing I found revolting was the way that it illegal immigrants work hard to produce food for the rest of America, some of them for a dozen years or more, but they are unceremoniously rounded up from their trailers up in a constant stream of police raids. All of this while the companies that have made constant use of the hard labor of these undocumented people are left unscathed. There are very few raids for illegal immigrants at the factory farms-this would interfere with the profitable assembly line.

Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)

Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)

There’s a lot more to Food, Inc. then I’ve described in this brief post. I highly recommend that you watch Food Inc. if you care about what you’re putting in your stomach. Even if you think you have a cast-iron stomach, take a look at Food Inc. and you’ll be primed to start eating more smartly.

Although much of the information presented in this video is disturbing, the video is full of good suggestions for what you can do about these problems. So is the movie’s website (with regard to each of these topics, simply click the “Learn More” link).


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Category: Food, Health, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:


    My wife and I watched the documentary a few weeks ago as well. I'll agree that it was very even-handed in its portrayal of the corporations involved, and I might even say that they bent over backwards to put them in the best possible light, given the circumstances.

    My wife and I have been involved in these types of local-foods issues for a couple of years now, so we were already conversant with the subject matter. The "especially articulate man" you point out above is Joel Salatin. He was also prominently featured in Michael Pollan's <span style="font-style: italic;">The Omnivore's Dilemma</span>. His farm, Polyface, has a blog here, and I heartily recommend his own book on the food system, entitled <span style="font-style: italic;">Everything I want to do is illegal: war stories from the local food front.</span>

    The average consumer has no idea how much corn they are eating and drinking. Consider that virtually 100% of fast food items contain corn , or are from animals raised exclusively on corn. You'd be shocked at the number of products in your grocery store that contain corn, corn solids, corn starches, and the much-maligned corn syrup. As a recent example, we recently had to find a new brand of pickles after realizing that there was even high-fructose corn syrup in the name-brand pickles we had been buying. Since making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of corn syrup in our diet (which practically means avoiding almost all processed foods), we have both shed about 10 lbs, without much effort at all.

    One thing I especially liked about Food, Inc. is that they kept the solution fairly simple: buy more local/fresh foods from the grocery store/sprawl mart. That is a good and very necessary message and if everyone did that one thing, huge gains in our national health could be realized. However, I would have preferred a more expansive one: grow some of your own food, go to a farmer's market and buy foods directly from a farmer, join a CSA, etc…

    If you enjoyed this documentary, I would also recommend Food Fight. We were able to attend a screening a few months ago and were lucky enough to have Chris Taylor, the director, available for discussion afterwards.

  2. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Also, a move towards fresh, local foods will mean a dramatic reduction in the amount of "ammonia-treated nasty pink slime" that one consumes. To me, it's not much of a sacrifice.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Another documentary on corn was recommended to me: King Corn.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    From Huffpo, here's more on why corn fructose is so bad for so many Americans:

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

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