“I understand why farmers don’t want to talk because companies can do what it wants to do as far as pay goes because they control everything. But something has to be said.”
–Carole Morison, chicken farmer growing for Perdue
An August press release from The Lane Report was headlined “Chicken farming has Kentucky crowing. It led with the statement, “Kentucky’s poultry industry has taken flight the past 20 years, reporting, “Kentucky’s commercial poultry industry has grown from a paltry 2 million birds per year in 1990 more than 300 million today.” Melissa Miller, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation, told the magazine, “some might be surprised to learn that chickens rule the roost in generating Kentucky farm income.”
No, that wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows much about Kentucky’s economy and its predilection for incentivizing low-wage operations widely regarded as “misery industries” in most developed countries.
It certainly won’t be a surprise to anyone who watches Food, Inc. which serves as a “101” style primer for viewers who really aren’t sure how food makes it from the “farm” to the table these days.
The movie opens in McLean County, Kentucky with farmer Vince telling the camera that the manure “smells like money to me.” Then poultry farmer Carole Morison takes filmmakers inside her chickenhouse where she says on camera “This isn’t farming, this is mass production.” She refused to implement the new, more heavily industrialized, window-free chicken-houses, and her contract with Perdue was canceled.
Authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) are on-camera for much of the documentary, breaking down complicated information into more digestible format.
Pollan explains, the industrialized food system “says we value cheap fast and easy when it comes to food, and we have lost any connection to where our food comes from.”
Eric Schlosser says “You look at the labels and you see farmer this, farmer that.
Itâ€™s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history.”
From there, the movie tries to cram at least four or five documentaries into one.
Food Safety is addressed in the story of Barbara Kowalcyk who lost her two-year old son Kevin to e-coli. She’s been pushing for “Kevin’s Law” since 2002, which would give the USDA its regulatory teeth back, with no success.
Monsanto’s stranglehold on farmers is illustrated through the story of Indiana’s Moe Parr, a seed cleaner sued by Monsanto. (Nothing Monsanto does will come as a surprise to anyone who saw the thinlyveiled Hollywood-ized allegory, Michael Clayton.) You shouldn’t even type the word Monsanto without legal counsel. The real work on this topic has been done by Vandana Shiva (who has spoken several times at UK) in her book, Stolen Harvest.
Health issues like diabetes consume one full segment.
Affordability and “dollar menus” and how the working-poor feed themselves takes up another.
Poor labor practices like those found at Smithfield are yet another segment.
And while there’s nothing as graphic as anything PETA would like to show you, there are a few moments of insight into how the sausage gets made that might convert a casual carnivore.
In a heavily-agrarian, poor, and diabetes- plagued state like Kentucky which has still not fully recovered from the tobacco transition, these are all especially vital issues — none of which will be new to an average Whole Foods/Good Foods shopper.
There isn’t much depth to this movie — in trying to be everything, it accomplishes less than it would like, but it’s a worthy overview ” even if it only encourages viewers to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or In Defense of Food.