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Reviews in Brief: Food, Inc.

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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.

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  • Jordan Richardson

    where do many of Food, Inc.’s facts come from

    I dunno, um, common sense?

    Most of what this documentary presents is pretty clear-cut, like the fact that cows are being fed corn when they can’t digest it properly or the fact that a handful of corporations are ruining most of the food we eat.

    While I agree that we ought to be skeptical of what we see, I absolutely can’t buy this notion that “environmentalism is a religion.” It seems ridiculous to negatively label the act of caring for the earth, but then again the guy wrote Jurassic Park so he’s gotta know his stuff, right?

    Back to the documentary, the end credits provide a website for viewers to check the sources and the facts. Perhaps you could do the same before suggesting that there’s some sort of mystery as to where the film’s facts came from.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    This film sounds too involved to be dealt with briefly, so you do your position a disservice. There has to be more to the film than two people and I am not sure of the film’s conclusion.

    Exactly what “crucial details” were overlooked in Super Size Me?

    And are you sure a guy who died of cancer is the best person to be dismissing the effects of what we put into our bodies?

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    Response to Jordan:

    Some of the statistics they show in written flashes on the screen is what I meant, like the likelihood children have of getting diabetes, and the number afflicted.

    But on a more general level, when they raw data, who conducted the surveys or investigations that produced them, and what kinds of documents did they use to support their findings?

    Obviously in a documentary you don’t have to do this, but the slant they show does make me wonder.

    I have the link to Michael Chrichton’s speech in the review. You probably won’t agree with him when you’re finished, but it’s a fascinating postion.

    I am on the web page they provide at the end of the documentary. I see a series of books I can purchase that are possibly the source of the research. During my Christmas shopping I will take a stop in the book store with a list of titles, and check what reputable, peer-reviewed journal entries they used, or large-scale statistics surveys they used, and then find those original sources and read them myself.

    I will return to report my findings.

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    Response to El Bicho:

    I agree with you. The review felt incomplete considering I was stating an unpopular position. I think a proper essay with my own research would be far more convincing.

    The point of Super Size Me was to investigate the effects of what eating only McDonalds over a period of time would do to an individual. What is crucial is in this scenario is what he chooses to eat. Obviously if he eats a double quarter pounder three times a day, every day, for his duration, he increases his chances of adverse health effects.

    I would be hard pressed to find someone who would be the best person to speak on the subject of what we put in our bodies. But I don’t think someone who died of throat cancer, even if it was a result of excess cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption (which also requires investigation), means that his opinions should be entirely discounted. First and foremost, Michael Chrichton was a researcher.

  • Jordan Richardson

    You felt the that the likelihood of children getting diabetes was a questionable statistic? I thought that was common knowledge. There’s no doubt that diabetes is on the rise among children and those numbers are accurate.

    who conducted the surveys or investigations that produced them, and what kinds of documents did they use to support their findings?

    Again, that’s what the website is for. This is a documentary film, made to operate in a fluid watchable way. It is not a compilation of raw data. That would be excruciatingly boring and nobody would go see the picture. Same goes with Super Size Me. If what you were looking for was a day-by-day assessment of what Spurlock ate, it would make for a boring picture. I’m sure you could, conversely, find out more specific information by visiting the respective websites of the filmmakers. And you can.

    the slant they show does make me wonder.

    Makes you wonder about what?

    And the website provides far more information than just a list of books for research. The “About the Issues” tab takes you to a host of websites containing research and further links, unlocking a endless slew of information and facts utilized to support the findings of this particular documentary.

    I’m anxious to hear how (and why) you would rebut the findings from this relatively straightforward documentary. The basic fact that our food industry is a business designed to provide large quantities of mass produced food cheaply is undeniable, as are the shortcomings of such a system.

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    I do not disagree that diabetes is on the rise in children in America, but would like to know what study was used for their statistic: “1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes.”

    This is probably a long-term calculation based on the rise each year of children contracting early onset diabetes.

    Early onset diabetes is also called Type 1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes. According to this Wikipedia article, “There is no preventive measure against developing type 1 diabetes. Most people who develop type 1 are otherwise healthy.”

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    Here is a breakdown of their fact sheet:

    1. Find organic, local foods
    – this is a website for eating well, with no statistics. At least, I can’t find any.

    2. Kevin’s Law, Foodborne Illness
    – You’re right, there are resources here. I’m hunting around and looking for a list of FDA safety inspections conducted in 1972 and 2006. Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d made it easier for me since they were trying to prove a point?

    3. Diabetes and Obesity
    – this is a petition

    4. Put Nutritional Labels on Restaurant Food
    – This is a site to urge congress to label menus

    5. Factory Farming
    – This is on animal cruelty

    6. Genetic Engineering
    – Click enough and you get to a pretty legit document indicating numbers of cases and amounts settled in court
    Here’s the Monsanto response

    7. Pesticides
    – is this even in the movie? I do not recollect much if any mention of this

    8. Farm Worker Protection
    – these are mostly stories and news, not statistics. there are a number of whitepapers here on pesticides though

    9. Environmental Impact
    – Is this a children’s site? It looks pretty official. In any case, the environmental impact was largely unmentioned in the film

    10. Cloning
    – same site as 6

    11. The Global Food Crisis
    – This is pretty interesting. But again, largely unmentioned. Mostly it was “worldwide corn farmers can’t compete”

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    How about some of the other statements that are made?

    “In 1972, the FDA conducted approximately 50,000 food safety inspections.

    In 2006, the FDA conducted 9,164.”

    Firstly, where does this data come from, and who collected it? Secondly, what are some other factors involved? The USDA does various kinds of food safety inspections as well, like this small one they do where they sample a few thousand cattle each month for BSE.

    You stated:
    “This is a documentary film, made to operate in a fluid watchable way”

    I’m with you buddy. In my first response to you I stated “Obviously in a documentary you don’t have to do this.”

    On a similar note, we are probably scratching the surface of this discussion, and we’re well into essay length territory. When I submitted this review it was 303 words. On my own site I have added an additional paragraph, and changed a few words around. I invite you to read that review before we continue.

    It has been my experience that a lot of people appreciate flash reviews. They don’t seem to want to read 500 words. I have a section on my blog for ADD reviews, and it receives a fair amount of traffic.

    I did my best to summarize my endorsement of this film in 300 words. Perhaps I failed.

    You said: “Makes you wonder about what?”

    It makes me wonder: If they are willing to vilify the process/company with ominous music while we see them clean meat with ammonia, and give no detailed, dumbed down explanation of how the process works, and dedicate 2 minutes and 15 seconds to this company, while taking the mother and spending 9 minutes and 13 seconds showcasing her sad story and inspiring aftermath with the appropriate music, how are they manipulating the presentation of other information in their film to force me to feel sympathy to their cause?

    I’m not saying every fact presented is not true. Obviously a lot of food is mass produced cheaply. Yes, there are problems. See the use of the word “genuine” in my blog review. That’s just for you.

    Finally, I do not have to go to Spurlock’s site (if you’re sure it exists, I’d love to see a link). Several people have already done studies on my stated suspicions, which are obviously shared.

    See the “Criticism and statistical notes” and “Alternative experiments” sections

  • Boeke

    Wiki

    “Cause

    Environment

    Environmental factors can strongly influence expression of type 1. A study showed that for identical twins, when one twin had type 1 diabetes, the other twin only had type 1 30%–50% of the time. Despite having the exact same genome, one twin had the disease, where the other did not; this suggests that environmental factors, in addition to genetic factors, can influence disease prevalence.[7]

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    Response to Boeke:

    What does an environmental factor (not mentioned in the film) have to do with food?

  • Erika

    Just wondering, 2dreviews, did you ever learn where the statistics on Diabetes came from in the movie? I’ve searched the internet, and it bugs me there’s only religious acceptance of those stats. Type 2 runs rampant in my husband’s family (Type 1 less so)and I worry about ANYbody getting stuck with that burden…

  • http://2dreviews.wordpress.com/ 2dreviews

    Hi Erika,

    Sadly I did not find the statistic.

    I guess that’s partly why there is religious acceptance of certain statistics. Some of the issues discussed are deeply personal.

    Which is sleezy in a way, to prey on people’s feelings towards real issues

    Hope everyone in your family stays happy and healthy! Thanks for the comment