Friday, June 26, 2009

Food, Inc.

See It at the Film Forum

Robert Kenner's documentary Food, Inc., currently at the Film Forum, isn't about celiac disease and its one mention of gluten has to do with corn gluten, but it's still relevant to anyone on a medical gluten-free diet (and, for that matter, anyone who isn't).

Food, Inc., which features talking heads Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, documents how far food production in the United States has moved from small farms to large and very powerful food corporations. These big businesses, with the help of government subsidies, seem able to deliver mass quantities of relatively cheap food for the masses but their modus operandi includes inhumane treatment of animal stock, bullying of small farmers, workers, and consumers, heightened risks of serious infection, suppression of information, and the increased marketing of junk food (i.e. soda and chips and fast food) rather than nutritious food items.

One part of Food, Inc. that is of interest to the gluten-free is the coverage of two food safety lobbyists who lost a child to contaminated hamburger meat. They have spent years trying to get Congress to approve legislation that would enable the government to shut down plants that repeatedly produce the killer meat. On related notes, the film shows big business interests fighting against consumer-friendly labeling and also touches on how the FDA, USDA, and other agencies that should protect us have actually been weakened over the past decades of government policy-making. This is what our advocates have been up against when lobbying for improved labeling and enforcement of reasonable standards. Will the Barack administration be able to turn around this sickening trend?

Another pertinent section of the film is its suggestion that the food industry tends to solve its problems through complication rather than simplification. The main example has to do with E. coli contamination of meat. The industry seems to want to solve the problem by adding ammonia to mass meat production instead of employing the simpler method of feeding cattle a natural diet of grass (rather than the standard, infection-inducing, artificial diet of subsidized corn). This reminds me of the pharmaceutical industry's investment in gluten-neutralizing medications: I'm all for research and innovation, but I wonder whether there will be significcant downsides to the development of those medications when a simple, gluten-free diet already seems just fine as a treatment. What would be so bad about our society simply making it easier and easier to stay on the diet? (And, once again, where's the investment in getting as many people as possible correctly diagnosed as soon as possible?)

Similar thoughts crossed my mind during the films' extended sequence showing how Monsanto's genetically modified (GMO) soybeans have come to dominate the market in the United States. Monsanto, which acquired a patent on the soybeans, aggressively goes after farmers who resist becoming a part of what has become Monsanto's near-monopoly. Monsanto even goes after farmers whose crops have become naturally "contaminated" (illegally invaded?) by the company's patented soybeans! This part of the movie led me to think about efforts to create GMO wheat and other grains that would be safe for people who are gluten-free. What would be the chance of the "safe" wheat being contaminated by or confused with "unsafe" wheat? What would be the chance of the "safe wheat" patent owner abusing its power like Monsanto does? How much should this path be pursued, when today it is already possible for masses of people to maintain healthy gluten-free medical diets?

Food, Inc. is, ultimately, an advocacy film that calls for its viewers to reverse the bad trends by at least voting with their dollars when they buy groceries. Changing one's food-buying practices can require major adjustment, as those who have switched to being gluten-free already know.

Some images of animal treatment in the film can be hard to take, but the shock is a small price to pay to heighten one's awareness of how foods such as eggs, meat, and milk make come to the table.

Oh—and GFCO participant Stonyfield Farm has a promiment role in the film.

Here's the opening of Food, Inc.

Source (3:30)

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