Movie Review: Food Inc.


As someone who lives and breathes food politics, agricultural sustainability and food justice on a daily basis, even I was surprised by some of the things I saw in this film. Food Inc. explosively details exactly how the food system serves the profit motives of just a few mega corporations, while failing to serve eaters, our health, the environment and the animals and workers trapped in the system.

In interviews, the filmmaker has said that he didn’t set out to make such a one-sided film but that the industries he profiled – Tyson, Monsanto, Smithfield, et al – wouldn’t agree to be interviewed or shown in the film. I don’t blame them. The information gathered from hidden cameras and interviews with brave individuals who don’t have a whole lot left to lose presents facts so damning and so incredible, it’s impossible to dispute them.

Anyone who agreed to talk on camera for this movie risked being sued. The mother who lost her young son to E. coli cannot say what she herself eats due to the risk of being sued for libel under the “veggie libel laws.”

Of all the food documentaries I’ve seen and food system exposés I’ve read, this film did a wonderful job of showing the human side of the injustices in our food system. Not just the environmental degradation or the lack of food safety, but the grinding human (and animal) oppression inherent in the system.

I was quite literally sick at the rampant and systemic injustices unleashed on farmers, farmworkers, animals, the environment and eaters as just a routine part of business-as-usual in the food industry.

If enough people see this film it could have the same impact that Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle had on the meat packing industry in the early part of the 20th century. I think there should be a campaign encouraging everyone who cares about food to take at least one person who doesn’t care about food to see this film: co-workers, mothers, fathers, friends and lovers”¦because if everyone sees it, nobody will stand for business-as-usual any longer.

In addition to the mother who lost her son due to tainted ground beef, the film profiles a variety of people, like ordinary working class citizens who would like to eat better than fast food, but cannot afford to; poultry house workers who toil under horrifying conditions and are utterly powerless (the industry recruits and buses workers from within Mexico); and farmers under contract to large corporations who have no say in how they run their businesses or treat their animals and who don’t even make a living wage.

A Tyson chicken farmer agreed to go on camera. She had her contract pulled because she refused to upgrade her chicken houses according to company specifications that would have prevented any light or air from getting into her already crowded, fetid and utterly nightmarish chicken houses. Chicken farmers make an average of only $18,000 a year as contract farmers for Tyson Corporation. If the chickens and the farmers are treated so poorly, can you imagine what the mostly undocumented immigrant processors are subjected to?

Then there’s the man who runs a seed cleaning business (which used to be common practice back when farmers saved seeds). Monsanto sued him. His crime? By cleaning seeds, he’s “encouraging farmers to violate Monsanto patents”.

Nevermind that these farmers are the last holdouts not using Monsanto’s seeds, and should have every right to clean and save the seeds they use. Scaring the hell out of any last resisters is this company’s way of ensuring complete and total ownership of the seed market. When the seed cleaner was sued, he lost most of his customers because they became fearful of being sued themselves. The man had only three acres of land to his name. He finally settled with Monsanto, rather than fight and risk losing what little he had.

There are many more stories like this, as well as enough examples of a different way of doing things, that you will leave the theater thinking more carefully about what you are actually buying when you buy food and inspired to support some of the mavericks out there who are doing it right.

At the end of the film, one farmer says that if the people start demanding better food, the farmers will step up and provide it. In fact, farmers would love to do so. Without the consumer’s support, the risk to farmers for switching to a healthier paradigm is too great. If farmers know they can make a living doing the right thing, they will. This is the one essentially hopeful fact about this film. We do have the power to change the system. It’s as simple as refusing to buy what the system is selling. Don’t know how? The film offers several easy ways to start as the credits roll. They’re also linked here.

Image: Senor Codo

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.