Down on the factory farm

The bucolic farm where animals graze, where heavy tassels of wheat are ripening in the sun, where the yard is filled with free-ranging chickens and dogs bark when strangers approach may still exist today, but it's no longer the source of most of the food that Americans eat.

As detailed in this must-see, profoundly disturbing documentary, "Food, Inc.," directed by Robert Kenner, with the collaboration of Michael Pollan ("The Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma") and Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation"), it quickly becomes clear that our food is produced from seed to supermarket by large, multinational corporations that approach the production of meats and crops as an assembly-line business to the point where some seeds are patented and can no longer be owned by the farmers who plant them.

As Kenner shows, using guerilla footage as well as visits to these massive farms (as they're euphemistically called), food production has changed more over the last 50 years than it has over the last 10,000 years, and the changes are largely kept off the consumers' radar.

Most of us are simply unaware of where our food comes from and how it is produced. "Food, Inc." intends to lift that veil and disabuse the audience of its assumptions or lack of awareness.

To maximize profits, Agribusiness has created what are now called factory farms where animals (cows, pigs and chickens) are confined in shockingly crowded (some would allege inhumane) feed pens, stand for days in their own feces, and are fed a diet rich in cheap, subsidized corn (as opposed to grass for cows), the reason being that corn fattens the animals at a stunningly fast rate.

Today, a chicken can be raised from hatchling to slaughter in 49 days as compared to, say, several months for a free-range bird.

The implications and the unintended consequences of large corporations engineering a faster-growing chicken that has larger breasts (consumers prefer white meat to dark), using feed laced with antibiotics, are just now being understood. Ditto for cows and hogs that are raised in massive feedlots where E. coli is present and mutating.

In an era where assembly-line production on factory farms means greater profits, animals become widgets that are moved along as quickly as possible. The resulting pollution created from their concentrated waste, as well as the methane emitted, are realities abut which these corporations, which are lightly regulated, would just as soon the consumer not know.

We know that in America there is an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, linked to diet and obesity. It is estimated that one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes. We also know that four of the top 10 chronic diseases are linked to diet. Most Americans will eat 200 pounds of meat annually. The food that we are eating, the way it is produced, even the fact that we can buy it so cheaply — a bag of chips cost less than a bag of carrots; a family of four can eat dinner at Burger King for some $11 — is having a deleterious impact on the well being of our nation.

Kenner calls much of our food "notional," begging the question as to what really goes into our food. What is a McNugget? We simply don't know.

What we do know is that our food is no longer being produced on that small, pastoral fantasy called the American farm where animals graze on grass, fertilize the land as they move along, and where all is scrubbed by sunshine and fresh air.

Of course, Kenner offers a wide spectrum of information in this powerful documentary, all of it intended to disturb. The film is a superb example of what this genre of filmmaking can accomplish when it is deliberate, factual and carefully crafted.

"Food, Inc." will open Friday, July 17, at the Varsity Theatre. As part of the 2009 Ashland Independent Film Festival ongoing monthly series, the two Friday night screenings, at 6 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. will benefit the nonprofit film festival and are made possible by Coming Attractions Theatres. Tickets will be discounted for AIFF members.

For further information and a film trailer of "Food, Inc." visit

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