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Food Inc. The Little Film That Will Change The World?

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By James Geneau

The little film that just might change the world is an awful amount of pressure to put on Food Inc., a film being released in select Canadian theatres this Friday, June 19th, 2009. I had the opportunity to attend the screening this evening in Toronto and while I am an avid supporter of the good food movement, I entered the theater with skepticism regarding the ability for a documentary film to work in changing the way North Americans eat. 

I have read most of Michael Pollan’s major books (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto to name two) along with Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.  Each book is a profound investigative piece and not an easy read.  They were written by intellectuals for intellectuals, one would argue.  The authors and their award winning books have certainly helped to advance the good food movement and put food back into the spotlight but again, I would argue that “the sale of the message” to the reader didn’t require a significant pitch.  It is much easier to sell a season subscription to the Metropolitan Opera by advertising on public radio than say during a 30-second spot between “The Bachelor” and “Little People, Big World”.

Many of you are reading this and thinking “what an arrogant ass”, but please allow me to explain.  We live in a society of mass-produced messages and media that is focused on scaring, shocking, and entertaining.  We all say how much we would love to hear happy stories for a change but are glued to CNN whenever a tragedy unfolds.   The majority of our society would rather sit on the sofa, eat a bag of potato chips, chug a beer, and watch reruns of Seinfeld than read Michael Pollan’s book.  Sorry Michael, I love you but these are the facts of life.  So when I heard that Food Inc. was influenced by the works of these two authors and heard the studio representatives’ pitch about how it was destined to change the way we look at food forever, I thought “good luck babe, you’ve clearly never read the Botany of Desire!”

You see, in order for Food Inc., to make a difference, it had to take the equivalent of ancient sand scrolls written by the disciples of the good food movement and translate it into something that was intellectual, profound, and more importantly - reasonable.  It had to speak to the masses without alienating them, boring them, or offending them.  It had to show what was happening to our food system, scare lots of people, start some buzz, and bring a much wider audience into the fold.  Not an easy feat for filmmaker Robert Kenner.  And so I entered the theatre waiting to see a disaster of a film full of complexity, arrogance, and messaging geared toward a niche crowd.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Robert Kenner took a highly complex yet important issue and put it onto the screen in manner all of society could relate to.  It did not preach.  It did not lecture.  Instead, it used graphic imagery, emotional stories of real people, and basic messaging to share the story of our food system in a way nobody else has been able to do thus far.  One would argue that Super Size Me did a pretty good job of making people think about the impact of fast food on their health.  But again, only a person living in a steel box on top of a mountain for 30 years would not have already thought, in the back of their head even at some point in their life, that greasy fast-food wasn’t good for them.  Besides, the works of Pollan and Schlosser speak of something bigger than the fast-food industry and our health. 

Their works are about our entire food-system and its impact on the environment, the people we rely on for food, politics, economics, and us as humanity.  It was impossible for Food Inc. to simply be a story about how fast food is bad for you.  It had to be a documentary about the entire industrial food system and our need to return to a simpler time focused on good wholesome food.  More importantly, it had to use messaging that would appeal to a larger audience.  This was critical if it was going to truly make a difference.  It had to speak to the larger members of society and provoke not a few people, but hundreds of millions of people.  Otherwise, the impact Food Inc. would have had in shifting society’s values would be modest at best.  This was the challenge Robert Kenner was faced with when making this movie.  And this was what he delivered.

This film did not change my thinking; it re-confirmed I was on the right path.  But what it did do for me personally is give me hope.  It gave me hope that maybe, after years of understanding by a few, the message of good, responsible, and sustainable food might finally be shared with the masses.  It did not provide any solutions, but that wasn’t important at this stage.  It needed to raise awareness amongst a larger audience, make them think, and encourage them to make even a simple change in their daily eating regime.   If this is accomplished, we all benefit.  And I for one believe that this little film might just do that.



Comments


I sure hope so
Post Reply By Dave in ASHTON on 6/26/2009 11:02:39 AM

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