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Go see Food, Inc.

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I saw a movie last week that changed my life. Sound extreme? Well, it changed the way I eat, and since eating is essential to living, I don’t think that’s a stretch.

You may have heard about Food, Inc., the documentary by filmmaker Robert Kenner that seeks to lift the veil off of much of our nation’s food industry. It features the food cognoscenti Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” and Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” as well as a host of other fascinating characters from the world of food production.

Semi-jokingly billed as a horror film, “Food, Inc.” covers a lot of ground in 94 minutes. From genetically engineered food to high fructose corn syrup to factory farming to farm worker protection to food-borne illness, the film breaks down these buzzword issues into understandable components that shed light on the American drive to efficiently deliver cheap, always available food.

Much of the info in the film will be familiar. There are, of course, depressing and disheartening scenes, most from the factory farms where cows, pigs and chickens are “grown” in brutal conditions. But the film works because overall it is hopeful and optimistic that our food industry doesn’t have to work this way. To me, the most powerful quote comes from Gary Hirschberg, founder of the New Hampshire yogurt company Stonyfield Farm: “The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put there for them to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting.”

The bottom line: Buy local when you can. Read labels. Know what you’re eating and where it came from.

The screening I attended for the film (which opens in NYC, LA and San Francisco and elsewhere on June 12) had an informational fair staffed by several groups related to food issues: Sustainable Table, Slow Food USA, Just Food, and the Sierra Club. The latter handed out a brochure that was equally empowering, stating, “We vote 3 times a day. With every meal, we can choose to support the environment or harm it.”

This movie isn’t about guilting you into becoming a vegetarian, a vegan, or vituperative zealot. It’s about making you a better eater. Get out and see Food, Inc.


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