The release of Food, Inc., and why it signals the next big battle

June 11, 2009

Tomorrow the film “Food, Inc.” hits movie theatres in major American cities. The buzz around this film has already been enormous, including Director Robert Kenner and Michael Pollan appearing on Good Morning America on June 9.

You know the battle over global warming. You know the battle over public health and smoking. Now prepare for the food battle. I think what is a smoldering crisis for the high production food industry will erupt into a full blown crisis and this movie may very well provide the necessary spark.

First, I should tell you I have some personal connections here. My son, Chris, is an Emmy-nominated cinematographer working in film and television in LA. The person who hired him on in LA in his first job out of film school was none other than Robby Kenner. Indeed, Chris shot some of the more intriguing segments of Food, Inc. I am very very proud of what he has done here.

I also know Robby. Certainly not well and while I know him well enough to know we don’t agree on all things political and cultural, I do know that he is a wonderful, gentle, and very talented man.

Finally, as an example of Robby’s graciousness, he invited my daughter Ashley to the media preview of Food, Inc., knowing she is one of the top food bloggers in the world. Son Chris might have had something to do with this as well. Ashley’s review of the film and her delightful time with Robby and Marguerite are recorded in her blog Not Without Salt.

I have not seen the entire movie. Saw parts of it while being edited, saw the trailer and certainly talked to my son and daughter about it. Robby calls it a “horror film” about the horrors of what we eat and how our food is produced.

My main point here is not to engage in the firestorm that is already burning on this issue and will be fanned further by this movie. What I will find most interesting about this is the way in which the high production food industry deals with this huge issue and the obviously growing concern among at least a sizeable segment of its customers about their practices and methods. This is a crisis of major proportions. It is a debate very much worth having and I for one am glad that valuable information is being put out on the table with this film and consumer decisions can be made an on informed basis.

But I will tell you that I hope the high production food industry does a much better job of responding to this very serious challenge that what I have seen so far. For one thing, major chicken producers did their best to stonewall and hide from the filmmakers. Bad thing in an age of transparency. If you have nothing to hide, why hide it?

Monsanto is doing better with a website specifically aimed at addressing the myths, misunderstandings and misinformation of the movie. Here is how it starts:

Welcome to the Monsanto Fact site about the movie Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is a one-sided, biased film that the creators claim will “lift the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer.” Unfortunately, Food, Inc. is counter-productive to the serious dialogue surrounding the critical topic of our nation’s food supply.

Not a promising start to the very important debate. Doesn’t help to demonize or heat the rhetoric. What is important is reasoned and strong messaging around the key points that matter to those who are unconvinced either way.  Those, like my daughter, feel passionately about the damaging impacts of our current mass production of food. They have a very strong point. But there are important counter points. For one thing, how many people in the world would starve if all food were produced in the way that the heroes of this film are doing it? How many people can afford the substantial costs differences? What would they have to give up to pay the much higher costs of food? If all these corn products are bad for us, should the government outlaw them–or provide limits on how much can be produced?

I will tell you my greatest fear in all of this. If the high production food industry does as poor a job of entering the public debate as the nuclear industry has and as the oil industry has, there is no doubt that we will see government take a much greater role in our food production. I want informed consumers. I think making our own choices is critical. But if only one side of this important debate is heard from or is effective in their messages, there is little doubt that we will soon see a whole new round of regulations that will cost all of us a lot of money and limit our choices and personal freedoms. And it will be the food industry’s fault.

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One Response to “The release of Food, Inc., and why it signals the next big battle”

  1. Chris Baron Says:

    You need to see the film, I believe that it addresses many of your questions.

    Also your fears about our limited choices and personal freedoms have come to pass in the grocery store, try fining a loaf of bread that does not contain high fructose corn syrup or, for that matter try finding anything that does not contain soy or corn – ingredients that you and I have paid for with our tax dollars.

    I don’t want to use my tax dollars to pay for junk food, I just want more reasonable, healthy, choices at the market.


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