Important but Flawed: A Review of Food, Inc.
Category : Uncategorized
Food, Inc. is not a vegan movie. Far from it. It does many things wrong but does a lot right.
First, what does it do right?
Food, Inc. is the most mainstream movie we’ve had dealing with issues of industrial agriculture and food. While there are many films dealing with these subjects, Food, Inc. actually has the potential to be seen by millions of people.
For the footage of “conventional” chicken sheds alone, this movie is to be appreciated. The one farmer who was willing to show her chicken houses to the filmmakers lost her contract with one of the large chicken processors. There is footage of her chickens, grown so big so quickly that they can barely walk. They can take two or three steps and then collapse to the floor, which is strewn with dirty sawdust, feather, chicken feces, and dead chickens. Gathering up the dead chickens, the farmer piles them to dispose of the bodies. She has to do this every day because many of the chickens’ bodies can’t handle the massive growth.
One shot still haunts me: a chicken, collapsed on his back, bleeding, breathing in heaving gasps. He is about to die because his body has turned on him. His chest muscles are crushing his internal organs.
Pig farms in the south that have been flooded, their manure lagoons flowing into the river and on into the ocean. Downer cattle being pushed into slaughterhouses with forklifts. Feedlots that extend as far as the horizon, cattle standing ankle deep in their own shit. A cow fitted with a valve so that we can see into her stomach. Even the shots of the “nice” slaughter of chickens elicited gasps from the audience as they bled out.
There is a real message in the film that animals should not be treated as machines or production units, but are, in the words of Joel Salatin, “critters”. They have wants and needs and thwarting those is not healthy for them or for us.
So, what wasn’t good?
The film posits a humane sort of animal farming as a solution to these problems. Using Polyface farms (familiar to those of you who have read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma) as the paragon of good farming, the filmmakers make a case that animals can be farmed in a healthy fashion that is good for us and for them. But, they leave out many facts about even this farm. While they are able to slaughter chickens on the farm (a process which is also not pretty and certainly not “nice” for the chickens who get inverted and their necks cut open), they do not slaughter the pigs, cattle, or rabbits on the farm. They have to go to a slaughterhouse just like any other farm. The animals are still transported and killed just the same way as their cousins on industrial farms. There is no such thing as “humane” slaughter.
Really respecting the wants and needs of the animals would preclude killing them for our desires.
They also don’t mention that the chickens grow to slaughter size in about the same amount of time as the chickens on industrial farms. These are the same kinds of chickens – and they don’t show the chickens who are kept indoors with the rabbits. You can read more about that in Omnivore’s Dilemma.
But, what is most troubling about the film is the lack of real solution to the problem. They do not suggest any reduction of consumption. The final message is to go out and shop (as long as it’s organic). It’s almost as if the film were made by Whole Foods. In fact, it really felt like an ad for Stonyfield Farms. I suppose some of this endorsement of massive consumption is needed to appeal to the audience the film is trying to reach. I’d accept that, but it still felt like too much of an endorsement.
I’m not the only one who has a similar criticism of Food, Inc.
The film’s website suggests eating vegetarian one day per week, but this idea is not mentioned even once in the film itself. And there is no information about how much land and resources are used by organic animal farming in the film.
While the film has these deep and troubling flaws, leaving out vital information that could help us make important decisions about our consumption habits, it can (and likely will) prompt many people to begin seeking out more information about these issues. For this reason the film is important.
So, go and see it. But take along a stack of Even If You Like Meat and give them out to people as they leave. Fill the gaps left by the film.