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Thoughts on Food Inc.

April 7, 2010

Well, this is a certainly a very long overdue blog post. Several weeks ago, some (most?) of you attended the Lisa Heldke lecture; however, I had class at the time and was unable to attend. Instead, I went and saw Food Inc. that weekend, and truth be told, in some ways I’m happy it worked out that way… I don’t think I would have gone out of my way to watch Food Inc. otherwise. Anyway, I wrote a short paper afterwards with my thoughts on the movie, and I thought I’d share it here:

Food Inc. released in 2008, is a feature length documentary that provides a truly eye-opening and, to me, rather astonishing look at the food industry in America. Several story lines are followed, starting with the production of chicken, and soon moving on to pork, corn, soy, and other staples of the American food industry. Story after story, I grew more and more disgusted with the seemingly backwards system which, according to the documentary, provides the food industry with unheard of protection from offensive legal action. While I found the entire film fascinating, the segment that really spoke to me was the one that detailed the special interests in government protecting the various food companies.

I realize that it is always important to be critical of documentaries; they are, by nature, a form of propaganda, telling only one side of the story—that which the filmmaker wants to tell. However, facts are facts, and the litany of high-up politicians with special interests in the food industry is one good example of how and why the food industry is so protected from legal action. The documentary briefly mentioned Oprah’s legal battle against a food company which sued her for loss of profit—it took several months and millions of dollars, but she won. Realistically, the average farmer will not have the necessary resources to fight a huge company like Monsanto, but at the same time, the companies have teams of lawyers and executives in government that work hard to make sure the company will have the final word. There is clearly something wrong with this—it is almost comparable to a company having a monopoly on a product and squashing any competitors; at least monopolies have to pay huge fees and are held legally responsible, whereas those huge food companies are not. I agree with what one of the interviewed farmers said, that Lady Liberty held the scales of justice, and the two sides kept piling on money, and whoever piled on more won the battle. Sadly, this seems to be the case, more often than not. Clearly, something must change in our system to even the playing field and let true justice prevail.

Of all the stories in the documentary, the one on the special interest protection various food companies have really bothered me the most. In fact, I could almost say it made me angry to hear the stories of these farmers who were being stepped on by large corporations like Monsanto for things that happen naturally—seeds spreading from one location to the other. While it seems unlikely that I can do anything to help, the final message of the movie, that every purchase you make at a supermarket is a vote cast, gives some hope for change. Huge corporations will always exist—we are a capitalist country, and capitalism means big, wealthy, successful companies—but that doesn’t mean greed should be the ruling factor in our legal system, either. After watching this documentary, as the tagline of the movie says, I am now hungry for change.

One Comment leave one →
  1. lbblog05 permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:07 pm

    I also saw Food Inc. I was also greatly disgusted by some of the things I learned. Obviously the point of a documentary like Food Inc. is to illicit specific emotions in the viewers in order to sway their opinions. Food Inc accompished this task very well. I like that you pointed out that documentaries are forms of propaganda. It reminds us that we need to view them with a grain of salt.

    Two of the storylines in this documentary made me absolutely livid. The first talked about illegal immigrant workers. Mexican workers, who could no longer get jobs in Mexico because Mexican businesses couldn’t compete with American ones, were basically hand picked by some of the big American food-processing companies. Because they are here illegally they always live in fear. This fear is exacerbated by the fact that the company (I don’t recall the name) can just have immigration officials come to deport the workers on a whim. While I already knew that many illegal immigrants work in America, I was unaware that some companies had such sketchy deals with immigration officials. The fact that companies coerce these workers into coming to America then throw them out without a moment’s notice makes me sick.

    The second storyline focused on a man who works as a seed cleaner. Monsanto is suing him because they say that he cleans some of their seeds which farmers (his clients) are growing illegally. His charge was something along the lines of “encouraging others to break patent law.” I think this is absolutely ridiculous. The man is just doing his job. While some of the farmers may knowingly be planting Monsanto seeds illegally, others may just have them because the wind happened to blow the wrong direction. The seed cleaner was forced to give the names of all of his clients to Monsanto. In my mind, drew a parallel from this situation to the Blacklisting that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s by the House of Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC blacklisted many people in Hollywood on the supposition that they had ties to Communist Russia. Again, some of these people may have been guilty of the charge, but there were many who were not. In hopes of clearing their names, many people gave information on their colleagues. Not only was the farmer in the documentary basically put out of business because he could no longer afford the legal fees, but he has tarnished his reputation by providing information to Monsanto. I understand that Monsanto has a right to protect is property (in the form of genetically modified seeds), but is sickens me that they would go after the middle-man, the seed cleaner, in its attempts to crack down on illegal usage.

    Clearly this documentary made me emotional. How did the rest of you feel about it? Were there other storylines that seemed to strike you more than the ones that bothered me?

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