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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that they'll never snack on a chicken strip the same way after seeing Eating Animals, but that doesn't mean they'll never eat meat. This important but difficult to watch documentary (narrated by Natalie Portman) tells viewers about the grim practices of factory farms while suggesting that a better way exists. You'll see disturbing footage of animals being confined in tiny cages, suffering from disease, being tossed through the air or into a bin, and being rolled by a forklift. Swearing includes "ass" and "f--k," and there's a verbal reference to a cow being raped to death by bulls. The way that shadowy "Big Ag" is portrayed could upset/scare sensitive viewers. But the interviewed advocates, including people who breed animals for eventual slaughter, care deeply about animals, and their compassion is contagious. Ultimately, the movie's objective is to outrage and influence viewers to demand change within the industry by changing their own eating habits and purchasing decisions.
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What's the story?
Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's nonfiction book, EATING ANIMALS is a critical examination of the changes in America's farming system over the last 40 years. Narrated by producer Natalie Portman, the documentary shows the harmful impact that factory farms are having on America's environment, economy, health, and identity. Through historical accounts and interviews with independent farmers and industrial farming/USDA whistleblowers, the film argues that agribusiness (aka "Big Ag") creates conditions in which everyone -- animals, farmers, communities, taxpayers, and consumers -- suffers in pursuit of efficiency and profits.
Is it any good?
The film does an effective job of revolting viewers into rethinking their food choices, shaking any faith in the USDA and Congress and mourning the loss of the American farmer. Truly, "you don't want to know how the sausage gets made" is a cliché for a reason: It's nauseating. (Or maybe that saying took flight because the meat industry doesn't want anyone asking questions.) The information is well-presented, but the film gets increasingly difficult to stomach with images of animal abuse. Portman narrates with a quiet calm that's juxtaposed with troubling stories and images of animal abuse and environmental nightmares that sufficiently leave viewers with, well, a lot to chew on. Perhaps not everyone will agree with its message, but Eating Animals' conclusions are fair, offering solutions that include veganism and sustainable animal agriculture.
That said, while Big Ag is an easy villain to target, the movie lacks balance. No explanations, justifications, or counterpoints are offered from corporate farms. The only opposing perspective comes in an unfair presentation: The owner of a new meat processing plant that sits where a notorious slaughterhouse used to be is clearly exasperated when he catches an animal activist filming his place. He explains that all the cameraman had to do was ask for a tour; his employees go through training, they care for the animals, and they aim for transparency. That conversation is followed with footage from 2008 of injured cows being rolled by forklifts by the former business, likely appalling viewers, who may not realize it's of a totally different company a decade ago. And, frustratingly, the film ends with mixed messages. Two of the hero farmers the film follows sell their sustainable farms to Perdue and Tyson, confusing those who were led to believe that those companies were the enemy. For all the work the film does to prove that industrial farms are the devil, it doesn't give enough guidance on farm names that the viewer can trust.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the tournament system of farming contracts. What effect does it have on a farming community? Do you feel that rewarding the biggest producer with the less successful producer's income is fair?
The growth of industrial farming was an unintentional consequence that resulted when a young chicken farmer experimented and discovered her chicks could thrive in nontraditional environments. What other examples of unintentional consequences does the film reveal? Have you ever done something with good intentions that ended in an unexpected outcome?
Why do you think the filmmakers made Eating Animals? How do the subjects display compassion, courage, and perseverance? What action do they want viewers to take? Will you now make different food choices? Some of the subjects they interview suggest eating meat is immoral; do you agree or disagree?
Twice corporate farmers confronted the filmmakers when they were caught filming facilities, one stating he would've given a tour if the filmmakers had asked, another saying, "You're trying to hurt me." These are the only times the opposing side is given a voice in the documentary. What do you imagine is their point of view? If a spokesperson from the big poultry or meat companies were interviewed defending their practices, would you believe him or her?
Technological advances to make methods faster, cheaper, and more efficient are usually considered progress. Eating Animals asserts that farming and the food industry were better off before making these "advances." Is there any other incidence where things were better off before they were "improved"?
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