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Wednesday, April 21 at 9 p.m. – Food, Inc., a POV Presentation

(Rochester, NY) American agriculture has in many respects been the envy of the world. U.S. agri-business consistently produces more food on less land and at cheaper cost than the farmers of any other nation. What could possibly be wrong with that? According to the growing ranks of organic farmers, “slow-food” activists and concerned consumers cited in the new documentaryby Robert Kenner Food, Inc., the answer is “plenty.” It airs Wednesday, April 21 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11). As recounted in this sweeping, shockingly informative documentary, sick animals, environmental degradation, tainted and unhealthy food and obesity, diabetes and other health issues are only the more obvious problems with a highly mechanized and centralized system that touts efficiency — and the low costs and high profits that result from it — as the supreme value in food production.

Less obvious, according to Food, Inc., is the entrenchment of a powerful group of food producers, which sets the conditions under which today’s farmers and food workers operate, in order to maximize profits. The industry also maintains a revolving door of employment for government regulators and legislators to protect its power to set those conditions. Then there is “the veil,” a strange disconnect — propagated in good part by millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by the industry — between the average American and the food he or she eats. As one chicken industry representative puts it, “In a way we’re not producing chickens, we’re producing food.”

For all the dazzling technological innovations of American food production, there are many people who would ask, “But is it food?” In addition to the animal cruelty, environmental despoliation and economic monopolization that Food, Inc., graphically details, the film also questions whether the industrial system at least produces the nutritious, health- and life-sustaining stuff we call food.

To discover the answer, filmmaker Kenner marshals mountains of data, vérité visits to production sites and footage of meat-packing operations secretly shot by workers, plus eye-opening testimony from farmers, workers, consumers’ advocates and the few industry people willing to talk in their own defense. Food, Inc. also features the on- and off-screen guidance of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and such practitioners of organic, sustainable farming as Joel Salatin of Virginia’s Polyface Farms, to warn that the nutritional value of American food products is increasingly in doubt. More alarmingly, many of these products, including processed foods, fresh meat and produce, pose real dangers to public health and safety. “The average consumer does not feel very powerful,” says Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farms, the No. 3 yogurt provider in the country.

The Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield companies — whose business practices are examined in Food, Inc. — all declined to tell their side of the story to the filmmakers. These companies also use their economic clout to discourage farmers and workers from showing their operations or speaking about their experiences with corporate farming. These four companies, as a result of corporate consolidation, constitute a huge share of the “seed-to-fork” American food production market.

Once Food, Inc. begins penetrating the industry’s marketing — family farm images, hyper-perfect food photos, health claims and bewildering brand arrays (that all lead back to the same few producers and, in the case of processed foods, to the same few ingredients) — its food-gone-bad tales are so numerous that they threaten to overwhelm. But the filmmakers carefully craft a fast-paced narrative that is informative and moving, as well as infuriating. Colorful, easy-to-grasp graphics support on-screen testimony, and despite the often grim toll of animal cruelties, human sickness and economic pressures unflinchingly recounted by Food, Inc, the film is driven by the brighter visions of the activists and alternative businesses which are leading the movement to make American food reliably safe and nutritious.

“Eric Schlosser and I had been wanting to do a documentary version of his book Fast Food Nation,” says director Kenner, “and, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. By the time Food, Inc. started to come together, we realized that most of the food in the supermarket had become industrialized just like fast food. Then we realized there’s something going on out there that supersedes foods. Our rights are being denied in ways that I had never imagined. And it was scary and shocking."


Credit: Magnolia Pictures

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