Last month, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, an outspoken leader on food safety and animal rights, hosted a special screening of the documentary, FOOD, INC. for a roomful of legislators in Sacramento. Thanks to a friend who works at the capitol, I was able to sneak in. It'd been a very long time since I've been surrounded by that many people wearing suits, and discussing public policy is not one of my favorite ways to make small talk (SBX2 3 or SB 135, anyone?). But seeing this important film with a roomful of legislators who were excited about sustainable food and who could actually institute change was one of the most powerful experiences I've had in a movie theatre.
You will soon be hearing a lot about FOOD, INC., a documentary directed by Robert Kenner, winner of both a Peabody and an Emmy for his previous film, Two Days in October. Opening in San Francisco on June 12, this latest release by Magnolia Pictures tackles the unenviable job of educating consumers about the agricultural industry. It's being called the Inconvenient Truth of the food world, and the quality of its production certainly compares well. Super-saturated colors, animation, engaging graphics, a sprinkling of humor to lighten its distillation of immense amounts of information, and a line-up of articulate, passionate speakers all meld into a highly viewable documentary.
Eric Schlosser, co-producer, and Michael Pollan, both ground the film with their journalistic approach. The soundtrack, with its ominous rumbling beneath mass production and the folksy guitar accompanying underdogs, manages to reveal the film's underlying stance, but FOOD, INC. strives admirably to present multiple views. Of course, that's a challenge when corporations refuse to take part in the conversation. (Monsanto, Tyson and many others declined to appear in the film.) The film offers a surprisingly evenhanded treatment of Walmart executives accompanied by Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm. Even more, rock stars of the sustainable food world, such as self-proclaimed grass farmer, Joel Salatin, inadvertently reveal the gray areas of their own much praised business models. After all, how sustainable are loyal customers who drive 400 miles to buy happy, healthy meat?