This well-produced documentary (2008) illuminates and explores the mass-producing corporate machine that is quietly and steadily gaining control of the United States food supply. Four giant meat companies command 80 percent of the market, while Monsanto alone has a near-monopoly on seeds—representing an industrial food system in which one hamburger might contain bits of 1,000s of different cows, and in which one quarter of the products in the average American supermarket contain corn or its derivatives.
Farm animals and crops have been altered by hormones, genetics, pesticides and ethylene gas, to grow bigger, fatter, and more, while farmers have morphed into mechanics, removed from the pastoral life and given the sole purpose of feeding and oiling the machine. Farmers have sacrificed rights, producing at the whim of the companies. Factory workers, often illegal Latino immigrants, are also a dime a dozen, at risk of losing fingernails to the machines, being coated with animal guts and feces, and being discovered by immigration patrol.
This fast-paced, colourful documentary is organized around interviews with Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, detail the current state of the system, much as they have in their books. The statistics and technicalities they offer are set to music, provocative graphics, coloured with scenes from the industry itself, and emphasized with stories of people’s personal encounters with the system—the family that counts every penny and fills themselves with fast food, the sarcasm and jaded bitterness of the organic farmer, and the mother of a child who died from eating an e coli infected hamburger, who runs up against the cold, ambivalence of the USDA and FDA regulatory agencies feds in her struggle to implement Kevin’s Law, demanding more honest government oversight.
Questions arise as to how to change the current system. The founder of Stoneyfield Farms, Samuel Kaymen, once a young idealistic street promoter of organics, came to the conclusion that only Goliath can beat Goliath. By building his own (organic) corporate giant, he can bring “organic” into the conversation of corporations. But today, when Colgate owns Tom’s toothpaste, Pepsi owns Naked Juice, and Groupe Danone owns Stoneyfield Farms itself—how organic is “organic”? The film doesn’t explore that concept—but nonetheless asks you to vote three meals a day; local, fair trade and organic.