Posted by: newperspectives85 | December 30, 2011

Food Inc: You are what you eat

You Are What You Eat
Food Inc. is a documentary representative of the organic food movement. This film creates an argument for change in the way the American public acquires food, whether it be plant or animal based, by revealing faults in the current system. Food Inc. exposes the corporate reality behind the myth of Agricultural America, dissolves deceptions that have interpolated individuals into purchasing factory farmed foods, reveals the commodity fetishism that creates an artificially low exchange value for subsidized foods, creates sympathy for its cause by correlating the reification of animals to the alienation of the worker, and offers alternatives to the current food model.
The film shows a supermarket, the American icon of consumer choice, with a focus on the meat labels. Each shows a beautiful, pastoral scene with rolling hills, post fences and red or white farmhouses. The marketing concept behind these kinds of labels means to create a perception of wholesome food and recall in the consumer an “H”istory of simpler times, when the local farmer brought his products to the local grocer and kids could play safely in the street. It’s a fantasy. These images suggest that farms are family owned and that purchasing a Hillshire Farms smoked sausage perpetuates small town American values. There are numerous labels for what appears to be several products from different companies.
The next scene shows a brown landscape, cows crammed into pens, and no green hills anywhere. No happy cows, either. This exposes the factory farm, a place where animals live on Concentrated Animal Feed Lots until their slaughter, at one of thirteen American slaughterhouses (there were thousands in the 1970’s) operated by one of four meat processors that control over eighty percent of the market. All the pretty labels belie the reality of monopolies producing our food. Food Inc. has made it clear that Americans don’t know where their food comes from.
American’s also don’t understand why their food is making them sick. We live in a time when actors are politicians and spinach is poison. Food Inc. seeks to show our regulatory agencies (the FDA and USDA) as being the “toothless” puppets of the meat packing industry, and puts faces behind their hegemony. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas and the FDA’s director of enforcement Michael Taylor are both former employees of Monsanto, a multi-national corporation that is responsible for the expansion (more than 70% of processed foods) of genetically modified foods. When Food Inc. reveals that Thomas wrote the bill that allowed Monsanto to obtain a patent on seeds, and that Taylor decided that labels indicating whether a food product contains genetically modified organism are unnecessary, they are making it obvious that policies designed to protect the public actually protect corporations. Along with policy, this documentary also explains “veggie libel laws” that protect the meat industry from consumers publically speaking out against health issues (a felony in Colorado) or photographing and publishing images of Concentrated Animal Feed Lots and slaughterhouses. These are examples of the state apparatus intervening when anyone challenges corporate hegemony. By revealing the efforts that the food industries undertake to hide and maintain their practices, this film is exposing the source of power that must be resisted.
How did the food industry become this powerful? Food Inc. examines the materialistic realties that allowed this to happen. The majority of food processed in this country is processed for the fast food industry, including the food sold in the super market, and the processing is fashioned after the fast food factory model. The demand for uniformity of Mc Donald’s burgers across the nation necessitated the demand for uniformity of food production. Large packing companies purchased family farms, placed farmers into indentured servitude through loan programs (so their farms could meet required standardized upgrades), and a lack of marketplace keeps the farmers from selling their products to any other buyer. There is none.
How did we allow this to happen? The desire for cheap food has kept America’s curiosity at bay. The film shows a family in the grocery store, an overweight minority child asks for some pears (which are ninety-nine cents a pound). The mother says no to the pears because she can purchase candy for cheaper, and no to broccoli because it cost as much as two hamburgers at a drive through. Food Inc. makes food a class issue. By showing a family that buys fast food because they are too busy with work to cook, they are saying that these food companies are preying on the working class. The film states that the number one predictor of obesity is family income and that half of all minority children will develop Type-two diabetes. A deleted scene demonstrates how full service supermarkets won’t do business in depressed neighborhoods (while showing the sodas and chips available in the local liquor store). These concepts are placed in this film so that the consumer will ask, “why are the bad calories so inexpensive?”
The same deep trench of hegemony that creates monopoly-friendly food policies is responsible for creating an artificially low exchange value for factory-farmed foods. The cost of producing corn is subsidized by taxpayers, creating an excess of product available at below the price of actual value. The excess of corn is fed to animals (that haven’t evolved to digest it) and fed to poor Americans (who are also made sick by it). When the film exposes the large number of cheap food products that are actually made of subsidized corn (soda, peanut butter, Cheez-its, Velveeta, chips, ketchup), they are implying that the poor are denied access to substantial nutrition through a manipulation of the true value of fruits and vegetables. It also suggests that the poor are fed the same diet as animals.
Food Inc. argues that the reification of animals in the food industry results in the reification of food industry workers. One scene explains how chickens have been adapted to grow “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper”, another exposes recruitment in Mexico and the bus services to bring in cheap, non-union laborers. One scene shows chickens being gathered for slaughter under cover of darkness to minimize resistance; a later scene shows Immigration officers gathering undocumented workers at night to increase passivity (and in small numbers to avoid production delays). One scene shows a dumpster full of dead chickens (unable to survive the breeding process), and a deleted scene recounts meat processors terminated for dismemberment. Both the animals and the workers are designed for temporary use, and used for the acquisition of capital. “Efficiencies” built into the systems of breeding and processing result in greater degrees of alienation for the worker, and a deleted scene discusses the species-being of the chicken, by allowing it to express its “chicken-ness”. Food Inc. manipulates sympathy for one into sympathy for the other, simultaneously gaining the support of animal lovers and human rights activists.
This film also insinuates that the food industry has reified the consumer who provides their profits. A blatant disregard for human life is expressed by failures to address systems that have increased food borne illnesses. Hegemony this powerful can believe that there are more customers to replace the dead ones, and that the cheapest means to an end (profit) is the most effective. Food Inc. compares the damaging health effects and power structures behind the food industry to “Big Tobacco”, and compels its viewers to destroy the system.
Throughout the film, horrors of factory farming are countered with the idealized Polyface Farm. This farm creates a vision of what all food systems could look like, and means to create a demand for their products to become available to the Food Inc’s viewing consumer. Polyface has a business model that creates high quality food products that respect land, animals and workers, but is incapable of competing with operations like Tyson and Smithfield. Food Inc. places this farm in the film to establishes a Hegelian Dialectic between factory farming and (its antithesis) organic farming, and suggests that the synthesis to resolve these conflicting practices is more big food business. Businesses that were established under practices similar to Polyface– Tom’s of Maine, Kashi, Naked Juice, and Stoneyfield– have since been acquired by giants like Colgate, Kellogg’s, Pepsi, and Dannon. Consumer demand for organic, humane and non-GMO foods has led to these acquisitions, and Food Inc. implies that these acquisitions are a direct result of growing consumer hegemony. When a product is truly main-stream, it ends up in Wal-Mart– culturally perceived as the opposite of business with integrity.
These arrangements have a positive impact on the larger community- safer food with a smaller global impact. But when asked if Kashi and Naked juice have “retained their soul” through acquisition, the answer was “jury’s out”. Food Inc. has their eye on the big picture, and the means to this end are sleeping with the enemy and making a commodity of their principles. For a film with such strong overtones of Anti-capitalism, it offers no solutions that involve circumventing the capitalist system that created the monster in the first place. The acquisition plan still fails to address the exploitation of the working class’ limited food dollar. Having more (expensive) organic options at Wal-Mart won’t make it any easier to feed hungry families. Concepts like reducing meat consumption, using fertile lands to grow food for people instead of food for food-animals, and planting victory gardens in homes and schools offer soul-satisfying solutions that should be removed from the realm of alternative activism.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 3:31 pm and is filed under Film Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

**What was I thinking about when putting this up? a cultural geography class i took over the summer…it deals with economic development and agricultural geography…how the media portrays farms (reality–how are farms–are they all the same–do they all slaughter for food processing? Wal-Mart has been demonized in the past for coming to certain cities in a documentary…why? small town businesses closing down, personal problems…but in this movie (Food Inc) they are heroes–as they work to create sustenance agriculture–wal mart as evil? really?



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