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06.17.09

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Phaedra

Courtesy Magnolia Pictures
FARM DAYS: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms shows off his hogs in 'Food, Inc.'

What's Cooking?

'Food, Inc.,' an exposť of American agribusiness, is the summer's most necessary movie

By Richard von Busack


YOU COULD call Robert Kenner's brave documentary Food, Inc. "An Inedible Truth." Graphics turn the film's titles into labels at a supermarket. The perfect place to start—at the market, we're lulled by images of red barns and green fields. "The veil is drawn," says Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, who charges that our food has changed more in the past 50 years than it has in the rest of human history. If we're paying attention, we can see it—as when we drive past the CAFO (concentrated animal-feeding operation) on I-5 that we can smell for nine miles. Defying the lawyers, one corporate chicken farmer shows us her wretched, antibiotic-packed birds piled up, so genetically breast-plumped that they are unable to walk more than a few steps. Foxes patrol these megahenhouses. Today's industry lobbyist is tomorrow's regulator, as sure as today's pig is tomorrow's bacon. And the sharecropper-waged farmers aren't in any position to complain. We visit Tar Heel, N.C., site of the world's largest slaughterhouse. Hidden cameras show us the inside. Kenner tells of how Big Ag recruits bankrupt Mexican corn farmers—driven out of business by cheap American corn, thanks to NAFTA—who were solicited in their own country to do this dangerous pig butchering. Drooling packed-in steers are fattened with cheap Iowa corn. It breeds E. coli in their guts. The nigh-annual outbreaks of E. coli are seemingly the cost of business, a price paid even by spinach-eating vegetarians. Meanwhile, interviewee Barbara Kowalcyk tries to get a law passed to allow the USDA to close down toxic slaughterhouses. The law is to be called Kevin's Law, after her young son, who was killed by a bad hamburger from a plant that dawdled for weeks over whether they should recall their tainted meat. She has to watch what she says, though; it's a felony to libel hamburger in Colorado, and no, that's not a joke. Prefer tofu? Monsanto hires investigators to make sure that no farmers save the seeds from the company's patented soybeans. Too bad that genetically engineered pollen doesn't recognize a fence, as many farmers have discovered in court, thanks to Supreme Court justice and former Monsanto lawyer Clarence Thomas, who made these lawsuits possible.Food, Inc. tries to end in upbeat fashion. It counsels fine-print reading, farmers markets and gardening. We can pressure the FDA to monitor megaslaughterhouses instead of harassing smaller agriculturalists; one such is the slightly messianic Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia, who gladly allows us to watch how the chickens get it in the neck on his spread. Alas. Anyway, his hogs sure look happy and are probably delicious. Director Kenner can't be accused of starry-eyed idealism. These days, even Wal-Mart gets into bed with organic growers; we see two of their reps paying a visit to as perfect-looking a Vermont dairy farm as you ever saw on the side of a lunch box. The film ends with a Woody Guthrie anthem and the reminder that if the United States could make Big Tobacco come to heel then agribusiness's wasteful and deadly practices can be stopped. You need to see this film. In 90 enlightening and enraging minutes, it gives a tutorial on what's on the other end of your fork.


Movie Times FOOD, INC. (PG; 94 min.), a documentary by Robert Kenner, opens June 19 at Camera 7 in Campbell.


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