I really like food documentaries, despite the fact that they show footage of slaughterhouses and animals in confinement. I don’t like this footage, but I think it’s important for people to know how their food is produced. As long as the primary source of food in our imaginations is the supermarket, we’re blind fools.
Hence, my love for food documentaries. A good food documentary will demonstrate the relationship between food and something else, most likely something one never considered seriously related to food.
Some particular ones I recommend include:
Asparagus: Stalking the American Life This film, co-directed by Calvin Collage Alumnus Kirsten Kelly, demonstrates the relationship between international trade laws and the local (Hart, Michigan) asparagus industry. The film follows Oceana County’s Asparagus Festival and the difficult lives of the farmers who are being undercut by cheap labor in Peru. The Andean Trade Preference Act of 1991 substidizes the asparagus industry Peru in order to decrease cocaine production. But cocaine and asparagus are grown in different regions of the country, and cocaine production has shifted to neighboring countries. Even if you don’t watch this film, start buying only American asparagus! (Trader Joe’s, for the record, does not sell American asparagus, at least the times I’ve checked.)
King Corn This humorous film was inspired by Michael Pollan‘s first section of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In it, two college friends decide to grow one acre of corn and see what happens to it. You’ll learn about farm subsidies, where corn goes, and how high fructose corn syrup is made (at least in the kitchen; they’re not allowed into the factory.) Maybe you’ll even start hating the corn industry and a trip through Indiana will become painful for you, but in the meantime, you’ll have a few laughs.
And finally . . .
Food, Inc. What I love most about this movie is that it shows all sides of the problem of industrial agriculture today. It relates industrial food to economic, public health, environmental, and political issues. For instance, political issues regarding illigal immigration are directly linked to animal processing plants. Why? Americans don’t want to do this messy work, so processing coorporations will encourage immigration (legal and otherwise) in order to continue producing cheap chicken, pork, and beef.
Food, Inc. features some of the loudest and most thoughtful food voices today, including Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin (of Polyface Farm) and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation. (Also a movie, by the way, a movie that is pretty horrible. I don’t recommend it at all.) Food, Inc. provides ideas about what you can do and how you can change how you eat, so it’s not entirely hopeless. What’s been most fascinating about this movie is the response it’s gotten–despite it’s not the first piece of media to point out these problems.
Funny thing, there’s been a bigger public reaction to a piece in Time than the film, as far as I can ascertain. Brian Walsh wrote a piece called “Getting Real about the High Price of Cheap Food” for Time Magazine (online) on August 20, 2009, and it was the cover article at the end of the month. South Dakota Corn Grower’s Association’s president Bill Chase responded by arguing that farmers eat the same food the public eats and that the obesity epidimic is an epidemic of personal responsibility, not an issue of production. Someone in the Hog/Pork trade group also wrote about this piece, but I can’t seem to find it.
Have you seen these films? Any other food documentaries you find particularly compelling?