Saturday, July 25, 2009

All the Elements in Place in "Food Inc."

It appears that the best documentaries these days contain some of the same basic ingredients: terror, disgust, mortification, anger and touch of hope. Throw in a crooked and impotent government; soulless, money-grubbing multi-national corporations; innocent and clueless citizens; and at least one champion and voila! you have an Oscar contender. If Michael Moore or Al Gore has anything to do with it, you'll win win the Oscar and your mud-spattered name will become a cause celeb on the radio talk shows.

So, here sits "Food, Inc.," the latest of that genre, sans Moore and Gore, though there's lower-case more of the lower-case gore than most of us want as part of our regular diet (couldn't resist that). Robert Kenner's "Food Inc." (armed with a 97 percent approval rating) comes from two books: Fast Food Nation by Eric Scholsser and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and the writers of those scary little volumes take front and center in sharing some of the narration of the film version, whose musical score (yup, a documentary with real music) adds to the nervous tension throughout.

Let me note here before going any further, that "Food Inc." appears to have been filmed by professional cinematographers and is not thin, grainy and shaky except when tiny camera-equipped factory workers take their little cameras inside slaughterhouses to show us what goes on. We don't much want clarity in that case, anyway.

A good documentary has the passion of belief and does not rely on neutrality. Frankly, given the subject matter here, it would be difficult to come up neutral when the the enemy consists of Monsanto Corporation (a company with a patent on soy bean seeds and is closing out farming to any little farmer who opposes it), Smithfield Corp. of Virginia (these boys have a rap sheet so long that we won't even bother going into it), Big Beef (which has your First Amendment rights of free speech in its pocket and won't let go; say "I hate hamburgers" in a public place some day and watch the lawyers skulk out of the woodwork armed with subpoenas) and an array of other multi-national giants you'll love to hate. On the side of good are a sprinkling of tiny, organic farmers and ... uh ... how do I say this? Wal-Mart. Yep, that Wal-Mart, the one that just got clocked by the courts for making people work off the, well, clock.

Wally's part in all this--though unintentionally noble in the end--is motivated by the same little saddle bur that motivated making its people work for slave wages, then for free as slaves: profit. As the boys from W-M say, "The customers demanded it" and Wal-Mart responded by buying up as much good food--at as low a price--as it possibly could. Even the good guys sold out, rationalizing that if you sell that much stuff, it's good for the game.

When Christina and I left "Food Inc." (which is showing on the big screen at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke because it is outdrawing "Harry Potter") last night, I was hungry, but reluctant to eat. When we got home, I made a salad comprised of my own tomatoes from Ft. Tomato (read earlier blog entry) and some other greenery from the farmer's markets nearby. It was good. But I craved some cornchips. This movie, if nothing else, serves as a diet. You'll think hard before eating again.

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