During the week of 3.5.10, PBS’s television program, NOW, recently aired an episode focusing on the new documentary film, FOOD INC (which features Michael Pollan, author of this year’s Go Big Read book selection).
In this episode, David Brancaccio talks with Robert Kenner, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary, FOOD INC, which takes a hard look at the secretive and surprising journey food takes on the way from processing plants to our dinner tables. The two discuss why contemporary food processing secrets are so closely guarded, their impact on our health, and another surprising fact: how consumers are actually empowered to make a difference.
During the interview, the documentary was compared to a horror film. Kenner voiced his opinion that foods look the same as they always have, and people think they have always been produced on small picturesque family farms they way they used to be, but food production has changed. For example, chickens are being bred to produce large breasts for commercial foods like Chicken McNuggets. Tomatoes and potatoes look the same but are nutritionally different than their counterparts in the past.
Kenner goes on to relate the nation’s healthcare problems to the nutritional imbalances in our food. He points out that the government-subsidized corn products have become an invisible ingredient in many of our foods without most of us even realizing it.
Brancaccio questioned Kenner about the cost of fresh produce and other healthy foods in the midst of such a widespread recession. Kenner acknowledged that fast food is quick, readily available, and many people are unaware of the damage those foods do to our bodies. However, what they don’t realize is that the cheapness of these foods is costing them much more in medical bills because of the affects these processed foods can have on the human body. Kenner argues that the major food corporations are creating food that makes lower income people sick because the government is subsidizing unhealthy foods to make them cheaper and therefore more appealing to the nation’s poor.
Kenner also argues that choosing between healthy vs. industrially produced foods is not merely an issue of personal responsibility. He says that the personal responsibility argument is an insidious argument because these corporations are designing food to make it attractive and hiding what it really is. Many people are not even aware of what it actually does to their bodies.
The documentary mentioned the work of one mother of a young boy who died from eating infected hamburger meat. She has been working for eight years to get Kevin’s Law passed, which says that federal government has the right to recall meat with levels of E. Coli and Salmonella that could make us sick. Currently, companies must conduct such recalls themselves. In FOOD INC, a connection is made between how the cows are raised and fed and how these bacteria are getting into our food.
Kenner discusses why Wal-Mart was included in FOOD INC as a symbol for major commercial institutions. He said it was chosen because it represented the truth that the consumer can make a difference. These places only want to supply what we are going to buy and if we choose not to buy a certain product or begin demanding a new one, they will want to cater to our purchasing tastes.
As they wound up the segment, the two men discussed the “Veggie-Libel laws,” which prohibits anyone from hurting the profits of food corporations by speaking out against them. Kenner revealed that he spent more on legal fees for FOOD INC than all of his other films combined!
Interestingly, the film set out attempting to start a dialogue with the food industries. However, Perdue, Tyson, and Monsanto among around nearly 40 other corporations would not cooperate because they did not want consumers thinking about where their food comes from or how it is made.
Kenner concluded by asserting that together, “we have to change this unsustainable system.”
For more ideas on how to eat well in your own kitchen, at restaurants, and in the community, visit: pbs.org/now