Behind the Curtain of the American Food System: A Review of “Food, Inc.”

Sahana Arumani, Editor-in-Chief

Before watching “Food, Inc.,” a 2008 documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner and narrated by author of “Fast Food Nation,” Eric Schlosser, I was unaware of my role as a largely passive consumer in the interconnected web that is our food system. 

Every time I walked into a supermarket, I was struck by the jarring abundance and variety of food items that sprawled across the aisles. The overwhelming amount of choices when it came to dairy products, bread, meat and snacks made me feel like I had control over what I was putting into my body. Little did I know that the food system was the one who was pulling the strings, not the other way around. 

The food system is one of those things that is so big you don’t notice it. This is where “Food, Inc.” comes in. This thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism effectively zooms out until the frame includes the two behemoth players in the American food system: industry and government.

Despite the massive scale of the issue that the documentary dissects, I never felt like I was drowning in facts or retaining a vague afterthought of what I just heard. The clarity with which this film delivers information is one of its most notable achievements. Conveniently and cleverly, the documentary is split into sections, each guiding the viewer down another alleyway of revelations that seamlessly constructs this engrossing narrative. 

These revelations are provided by a diversity of sources, thereby balancing the story while approaching it from starkly different angles. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” provides memorable insights alongside the experiences of farmers caught in a battle against the dominating forces of the subsidized crop industry, an inspirational activist, a union organizer, and an average American family. This was truly journalism at its best. 

This level of mastery was upheld when it came to the graphics and the ongoing slew of footage. Effortless is the only word I can think of when asked to describe the engaging and revealing visual element of this documentary. It was unglorified footage whose simplicity made the shots uniquely jarring. Most footage, including the powerful inclusion of aerial views of farmland and crop yields, is permanently seared into my mind’s eye. 

The documentary memorably ends with calls to action that speaks directly to consumers, providing a necessary dose of hope and conviction. Honestly, if possible, I would mandate that everyone watch this masterpiece. 

No matter how educated or ignorant you feel about our food system and our power to change it, this documentary will enrich and enlighten you in some way. Although it is 12-years-old, this piece will be timeless until everyone is aware of its message. We are at the turn of the new year and in the midst of an era of change, so what better time to broaden our horizons and strive to make a difference regarding one of our most rudimentary needs: food.