June 24, 2009

Increasing Appetite for Documentary’s Unsavory Message

Ralph Loglisci

Ralph Loglisci

Food and Health Policy Writer

food-inc-posterDespite its content, moviegoers’ appetites for “Food, Inc.” are only growing stronger. Just in its second week of limited-release, theaters are selling out of tickets for the documentary, which is highly critical of the industrial food system. Much of the demand may be attributed to the tidal wave of accolades from critics and writers in newspapers, magazines and blogs all over the country.

Most recently Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the film in his Sunday column:

“A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward. (It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.” If you happen to be eating a hamburger as you read this, I apologize.)”

Movie critic Roger Ebert admitted his review didn’t read much like a movie review:

“This review doesn’t read one thing like a movie review. But most of the stuff I discuss in it, I learned from the new documentary “Food, Inc.,” directed by Robert Kenner and based on the recent book An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I figured it wasn’t important for me to go into detail about the photography and the editing. I just wanted to scare the bejesus out of you, which is what “Food, Inc.” did to me.”

Truthfully, the movie shouldn’t scare you, but I hope it inspires viewers to do something about it. The makers of “Food, Inc.” hope so too and offer “10 simple things you can do to change our food system.” Considering I’m the project director for the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Projects, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight number five.

“5. Meatless Mondays – Go without meat one day a week”

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future have embraced the Meatless Monday national campaign since its inception almost a decade ago. The campaign’s goal is to reduce the negative health and environmental impacts of industrially produced meat.

This post preempted two follow-up stories in which I will discuss in the future: a truly eye-opening and sad portion of the film which included footage of federal agents raiding trailer homes of presumably illegal immigrants hired to work in a Smithfield meat packing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina; a series of scenes of a struggling Mexican-American couple living in California, who explained that despite the health risks the high cost of fresh foods forces them to rely on industrially produced fast and processed foods to feed themselves and their two young daughters; and the federal agriculture and food safety policies that have and continue to promote the corn based production system which the film links to many of the nation’s serious health problems including obesity and diabetes.

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