With Food, Inc., director Robert Kenner seeks to dispel the notion of bucolic simplicity peddled on the packaging of so many popular food brands by exposing the capitalist-minded machinations behind mass-produced food. And it's not just the traditional baddies like Mickey D's on trial here; the majority of items lining the shelves of your local supermarket are just as toxic, claims Kenner.
Food, Inc. presents its case effectively in compartmentalized sections that include trips to slaughter houses and profiles of food safety activists and local farmers. The computer-generated chapter breaks and jazzy music maintain an energy and vibrancy that make the material easily digestible. But the strongest attribute is its level-headed approach. While Kenner certainly has an agenda, his discourse remains pragmatic: Why wouldn't you want to maximize profits? Why wouldn't you choose the financial incentive of the dollar menu when you make minimum wage? Well, consequences including but not limited to genetic mutation and E. coli poisoning, as it turns out.
By approaching the subject logically, Kenner avoids alienating practices like finger wagging or scolding (aside from a couple of "[insert brand here] declined to be interviewed for this film" title cards). There are a few shocking moments (a fleeting shot of the sterile efficiency with which baby chicks are killed is one I'll have trouble forgetting), but they aren't employed sensationally. Kenner appeals to enlightenment rather than condemnation, and the text-based conclusion offers specific practices for viewers to consider. Even if they're only micro compared to the policy reform that the film essentially bids for, it at least offers tangible suggestions (scored to Bruce Springsteen no less). Participant Media also published a paperback companion that further explores issues raised in the film, and shipped it to bookstores in advance of the film’s theatrical release. By suggesting alternatives in a controlled, persuasive manner, Food, Inc. distinguishes itself from social awareness ego-trips like Richard Linklater's pedantic adaptation of Fast Food Nation and from the scores of fear-mongering documentaries that criticize without offering solutions: Michael Moore, Charles Ferguson, etc. take note.