As we back away from our centurylong lacuna in food awareness—and the accompanying factory farming, synthetic additives, preprocessing and packaging—our cinema has been keeping up, and not just with activist agri-docs, making Eat This Film a timely series for cultural as well as critical reasons.
Reviewing Fast Food Nation for this magazine in 2006, Michael Joshua Rowin wrote:
Connecting the dots from, among others, fictional burger joint Mickey’s marketer Greg Kinnear, meat packing plant and migrant workers Catalina Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama, and Mickey’s cashier-turned-activist Ashley Johnson, FFN... actually retains a human dimension: not just a diagram, the film imparts the sense of lives shaped by the culture and marketplace wrought by unchecked corporate practices.
It's true: the film, though adapted from a work of reportage, ends up a surprisingly lively bit of ensemble sociology. The film is remarkably alive to everyday signifiers of class and status: Everything from the characters' options, attitudes and assumptions to their taste in restaurants, cloths and interior design seems to correspond really rightly to the film's cross-section of an economic superstructure—seems to indicate how this top-to-bottom industrial system sorts its own, from business-class hotel rooms and chain steakhouses to agit-prop dorm-room posters to shitty high-school jobs. And Linklater, who likes people as much as any American filmmaker now working, makes this sociology anything but dry. (My favorite bit is still Ethan Hawke as a blue-collar bohemian trying to convince his bright niece not to get trapped in her station: "If you reach your 18th birthday without having missed a single menstrual cycle, I will give you one thousand dollars.")