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Food Inc: Reclaiming America, Bite by Bite

Food Inc: Reclaiming America, Bite by Bite

Food Inc on opening night (photo by Creative Commons user *Noema*)

Isabel Cowles Murphy | Chef's Blade

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post on June 10, 2009.

“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Food is everything, in the best of ways. It is what ties us to our friends and families, what holds us to our traditions and the planet, what keeps us coming together each day for nourishment and to express our values. It is the element of our humanity we share above all else: more than sleep, more than sex, more than childbearing and death, all of which come at different times, in different ways, for different people. But breaking bread is something we do together: elemental and symbolic, it is an act that binds our community in clear and subtle ways. Food is the source of the health and vitality of society—the foundation of a peoples’ success and the prognostication of a peoples’ future.

Because food is so enmeshed in our bodies, our communities and our environment, it can also be a source of tremendous cultural complication. Robert Kenner’s new documentary Food Inc. explores some of America’s seemingly unrelated ills and ties them together within the subversive—and shrinking—network of American factory farms. The film shows how the food industry has shifted from a broad network of producers and consumers towards a handful of corporate giants that control food culture not only in the grocery store, but also on the farm and on Capitol Hill.

On one hand, consumers are detached from what they eat—gone are the days of seasonally-imposed menus. On the other hand, Americans have fewer and fewer choices of what to eat and where it comes from—even if the options seem endless. Easily manipulated foods like corn, wheat and soy are engineered to enhance virtually every product found in a conventional grocery store. You may be drinking a soda, eating a steak or having a bowl of ice cream, but you’re also having corn three ways, and in so doing, supporting multinational corporations that have usurped and exploited traditional American farmers, replacing them with engineers, machines and impoverished workers.

The film points to a litany of social ramifications brought on by the American food system, but I won’t be a total spoiler. Either way, Food Inc., sets out to tell you things you’ve most likely already heard, or at least noticed. To wit, many Americans are getting sicker, fatter and poorer every year. This is happening, in large part, because of America’s complex and hidden food system. Multi-layered elements of the food industry are deliberately withheld from the public because of how shocking and, frankly, unappetizing they are. Industrialized farms, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and large-scale meat packing plants (only 13 plants supply virtually all of America’s beef, according to the film) create sick animals, a sick environment and sick people.