'Food, Inc.' offers a startling look at how we get our food, and what it's doing to us

Food, Inc. is a startling look at processed food and what it’s doing to us.

Magnolia Pictures

Food, Inc. is a startling look at processed food and what it’s doing to us.

Food, Inc. (PG) (94 min.) — We are what we eat and that's troubling, declares Robert Kenner's movie. But unlike other gastro-catastrophe documentaries, Food, Inc. understands that simply grossing out viewers with animal slaughters and unsanitary processing isn't enough to change eating habits.

Many of the villain foods in Food, Inc. don't bleed or have round eyes begging to be saved. They are simple dietary staples like corn and soybeans that seem healthy until corporate scientists and lawyers get involved. Then we see super strains developed to feed livestock, making cows and chickens grow faster than their legs can carry, or more insidiously, processed into foods that you'd never expect to include corn or soy.

Kenner informs us that 80 percent of supermarket foods contain corn (even batteries), and the unhealthiest types use corn syrup for sweetening. You couldn't eat enough corn ears at one sitting to equal the level of corn syrup found in a fast-food meal, not to mention the salt, fat and preservatives.

If corn products make cows and chickens fatter, what are they doing to humans? But it's cheap to produce, and conglomerates such as Monsanto have cornered the cornfields. And the soy crops, chicken farms and cattle ranches. The labels on these products portray a source steeped in Americana: stoic farming families working the fields with pride and care. That's a lie that we all buy, and it's killing us.

Food, Inc. covers a lot of ground in 94 minutes, in a manner so brisk and data-filled that extra viewings may be needed to piece everything together. What stands out is the near-paranoid secrecy of corporations when anyone like Kenner sniffs around.

Occasionally he'll find someone to pull back the veil a bit, like a chicken farmer who refuses to follow the company rule of blocking sunlight from coops to accelerate growth and death. Or a soy farmer sued by Monsanto for keeping some of its patented superseeds. Both are forced into insolvency by lawsuits they can't afford to fight.

At least they have their health, unlike the toddler who died after eating an E. coli-tainted hamburger, whose mother takes her grief to Washington and finds little comfort from Congress. Another family riddled with diabetes is so strapped for cash that all they can afford to eat is fattening fast food. What do you do when a hamburger costs less than a stalk of broccoli?

Food, Inc. isn't as funny as Super-Size Me, or as graphic as Fast Food Nation, and that's good. Those approaches didn't make much difference overall. But with methodical logic Kenner makes a firm case for resurrecting family farms that will grow foods organically. He even offers proof of the masses making a difference, with Wal-Mart — a symbol of U.S. corporate greed — bowing to consumer demand and stocking shelves with organic foods. Health can also be profitable, Kenner declares, but people need to wise up and demand it. A

Steve Persall, Times film critic

'Food, Inc.' offers a startling look at how we get our food, and what it's doing to us 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 5:30am]

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