The most a muckraking film like Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. can hope to do is frighten the viewer out of their complacence so much that they feel like, if only for a moment, they need to do something. Using testimonials and figures, the film tells you specifically what you probably already know: the centralized control of the food industry has allowed low-quality foodstuffs to be sold at a smaller cost in higher quantities and it doesn’t look like greater governmental accountability is anywhere in sight. That kind of statement of fact is by no means revelatory, but in the hands of Kenner it’s only the basic foundation for a very well-packaged and compelling argument.
Kenner’s documentary starts with an appeal to our fear of food companies as “the industry,” pumping out homogeneous, shapeless products. Targeting fast food industries like McDonald’s, whose factory assembly-line mentality have become institutionalized, it then builds its case for smarter and more specific ways that that inscrutable and unstoppable method of “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper,” as one farmer puts it, has established itself.
With the help of articulate and absorbing talking heads like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, Kenner does a fine job of compartmentalizing and breaking down the omnivorous tangled web of inter-related and reluctantly complicit players in the—forgive the pun—food chain. No one’s blameless, from the farmers that work at the pleasure and the mercy of Big Business to the consumers that buy cheap junk food instead of higher priced “quality” foods because of the manufactured abundance and price difference.
If any of these vague implications seem shocking or surprising, they shouldn’t be. Half of Food Inc.‘s struggle to shake its viewer out of its complaisance is won by its acknowledgment of the simple fact that they’re primarily appealing to those privileged with the opportunity to educate themselves and, more importantly, to opt out of such a rigged system. The complicity of politicians that represent the organization they’re meant to regulate is crucial, but is hardly just a matter of people being duped by faceless corporations. Food, Inc. provides a pat indictment of our own complicity, but one that is absorbing enough in its multifaceted presentation that it actually makes you want to learn more.