Food documentaries tend to reek of sensationalist propaganda. Food, Inc. is a documentary that seeks to expose the underbelly of the way beef, pork, and chicken production have become dangerous, industrial processes.
Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me glossed over crucial details. As a rule, he had to order everything off the menu once. But what items did he frequent? Four-piece Chicken McNuggets (190 calories), or the Double Quarter Pounder (740 calories)? Similarly, where do many of Food, Inc.'s facts come from, and what institutions conducted the research?
Documentarians are not journalists. They create films that meld fact and drama to convey one idea from one position — like an essay on film. But even essays frequently contest their own thesis and defend it.
We meet a woman whose child died from eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli. She tells her story to images of her son playing on a beach, happy and alive. Queue melancholy music. We watch her on the road with her mother, advocating for a law to ensure the USDA can identify harmful pathogens and follow through with measures meant to protect Americans.
We meet a man from a company that helps sterilize meat too commonly infected with E. coli through a process that uses ammonia. We see hunks of meat whipping around conveyor belts amidst grey, sterile scenery. Queue vilifying music. The specifics of the process are not mentioned.
In 2003 the late Michael Crichton called environmentalism a religion, and called organic food its communion. He wisely warned us to "distinguish reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda." Many of the facts presented in the film are frightening, and reveal a powerful monetary purpose to food production. This film does a good job of raising the alarm. But the process by which Chicken Little rings that bell should be scrutinized.