I’ll admit it; I was a little nervous about going to see two movies about our food supply on two consecutive evenings — Food, Inc., playing in area theaters, and FRESH, at a special screening Wednesday night.
I didn’t know much about FRESH, but what I’d heard about Food, Inc. was to eat something organic beforehand. My imagination ran wild. How disgusting was this going to be? Would I have to start eating seaweed for breakfast? And what if I came out of the theater feeling really compelled to change something? The horrors!
It wasn’t quite what I expected.
Food, Inc. may masquerade as a boring documentary, but really it’s a thriller, full of espionage and ex-military company types roughing up farmers in the black of night, arrests and cover-ups and mad scientist types turning corn into Coke and Cheez-Its. Of course there are blood and guts — those are prerequisites for any box-office hit — but the message wasn’t all kumbaya about growing broccoli and whatnot. It was about how giant corporations run by evil, squinty-eyed people are controlling the food supply.
In essence, this movie’s about rights — among them, yours and mine to know what we’re eating and to order a burger without a side of e-coli. Cool concept, huh? So now for the big question — if you go see this flick, will you ever want to eat again?
Yes! But you might rather buy a nice pork chop from a local farmer than order a fast-food burger made from meat of countless cows who stood knee-deep in their own crap, meat “washed” with ammonia. At least I would.
Or to eat sustainably raised, free-range chickens rather than factory farmed chickens specially bred to be twice their normal size, with large breasts and lots of white meat, who collapse because their bones can’t grow fast enough to support their unnatural weight.
Or to buy food not grown from genetically modified seeds, some made by a company the movie says blacklists and intimidates small country farmers.
And this is why I liked the film. It left me feeling hopeful, because this issue has a personal fix. Singlehandedly, I may not be able to change global warming, but I sure can choose what I eat.
As you might expect, DC makes an appearance in the film, as rational folks try to talk some sense into Congress, as does an industry representative testifying against food labeling because “it creates unnecessary fear in consumers.” (Hint, lady: If what’s in the food is that scary, maybe we shouldn’t be eating it. Ya think?) Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and on-fire farmer Joel Salatin, who calls his walking bacon “piggles,” turn up, too.
FRESH covers much of the same ground as Food, Inc., but is softer. The format is similar, and some of the same characters show up — Salatin, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
FRESH includes more folks who are coming up with solutions. One is Will Allen, a professional basketball player turned urban farming advocate. He brings community residents in to see and learn from his small greenhouse, the tilapia ponds running through it and his rows of lettuce in simple hanging baskets, stacked vertically to make the most of space. He helps the people who can’t afford to buy healthy produce — and would be happy to hear this week’s news that nine DC farmers’ markets now take Food Stamps through wireless EBT machines.
Another star is Russ Kremer, who went cold turkey, so to speak, on factory farming after he was gored by one of his antibiotic-fed hogs and got an antibiotic-resistent strep infection. Only a new, powerful drug and a hospital stay saved his life. He now raises pigs the natural way, in fields and without drugs, and disease on his farm is a thing of the past. To up the cute factor, the film shows off his adorable piglets.
Some of the most interesting characters, though, are Mr. and Mrs. Fox, who are in charge of a henhouse. For real — or at least that’s the name the movie gave them. Actually it’s a factory farm they run, where tiny fluffy baby chicks arrive in packed containers; careless workers, often prisoners because the locals won’t take the job, turn the boxes upside down at waist level and slam the chicks to the floor. The birds will spend the rest of their lives in that sunless building, crowded in wing to wing.
What’s interesting about the Foxes, who faithfully put forward the company line, is how their faces keep the same flat expression throughout their interview. Mr. Fox looks half asleep when he talks. Even the dogs on their laps are bored, dropping off into that dizzy, falling-asleep-at-the-desk-sitting-up-after-lasagna-for-lunch fashion. (Not that I’d know anything about that.) Apparently this is the mindset it takes to subject our feathered friends to that amount of suffering.
Overall, though, FRESH is a kinder, gentler movie than Food, Inc., a touch more rah-rah. Food, Inc. gives a better overview of the harder issues. (If you want to see FRESH, you can order the DVD online, or see it next spring in the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, which arranged this week’s screening.
Pictures of Hope
The good news is that both movies give the same hope. They talk about the consumer’s ability — again, yours and mine — to create change that gives us safer, healthier, yummier food. By voting. Three times a day.