A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Food, Inc. is a hard-hitting exposé on the food industry, especially the elite group of powerful corporations behind most of the food on supermarket counters. Most teens may not be interested, even though the documentary is rated PG and educational. There are a few disturbing scenes, mostly involving over-crowded chicken/pig/cow "factory farms" and slaughterhouses. It's worth noting that none of the featured companies agreed to be interviewed for the film, which does end up making the message seem somewhat one-sided.
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What's the story?
In FOOD, INC., filmmaker Robert Kenner essentially combines the themes of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation to follow how most of the food in any given supermarket can be traced back to just a couple of crops (corn and soy) and a surprisingly small group of powerful multi-national corporations like Monsanto, Tyson, and Smithfield. With Schlosser and Pollan and a host of other interview subjects weighing in, Kenner shows how the astronomical rise of fast food changed farming, the food industry, and even the global diet -- and not for the better. Since profit, not nutrition, is the bottom line for these corporations, Kenner posits that consumers can make a difference by making more informed food purchases.
Is it any good?
It's a good thing that most theater concession stands don't sell cheeseburgers and chicken fingers, or audiences would want to hurl them -- in either sense -- after seeing this movie. Kenner provides a comprehensive look at how food goes from "seed to supermarket" and how the driving force isn't so much feeding the world but filling the corporate coffers of a select group of controlling companies. Anyone who's read either Pollan's or Schlosser's work (and their influence as producers/consultants is obviously influential) may know a lot of the material, but the vast majority of Americans are in the dark, which seems to be how some in the food industry would prefer it (not that any of the companies agreed to be interviewed for the film).
Food, Inc. offers plenty of horror stories: how big companies are keeping farmers down, how animals are treated cruelly so we can have bigger boneless chicken breasts and fast-food dollar menus, and even how the USDA seems to care more about the companies it's supposed to regulate than the population it's supposed to protect. The segments showing the animals can be terrifying, and the one about the working-class family that eats fast food because it's so much cheaper than healthier options is heartbreaking. But surprisingly, the overall message of the documentary is one of hope -- how every dollar we spend on food makes a difference, not just to our immediate families, but to the world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Food, Inc. is saying about the food industry. Is it unfair for the filmmaker to portray the companies as the villains, the farmers as the victims, and independent farmers and consumer advocates as the heroes?
How does the silence of the companies depicted in the film affect the movie's credibility and impact?
Kids: Does this make you think twice about asking for a Happy Meal? What about junk food in general?
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