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Yum! American factory farming in Food, Inc.

Industrial-Size Indigestion

By Laura Leon

Food, Inc.

Directed by Robert Kenner

About an hour before taking my 7th grader to see Food, Inc., he asked if he could have some Dunkin Donuts Munchkins. Upon leaving the theater, he noted that he didn’t think he wanted to go to McDonald’s anymore.

Buttressed by devastating critiques from authors Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Food, Inc. shows us the intricate web that has been spun around our entire food system, beginning with government subsidies and the emergence of corn as the single most predominant starch in our food systems (and those of the animals we eat). It’s an amazing history and socioeconomics lesson, although I suspect that it’s preaching to the choir and unlikely to initiate the massive changes in consumer behavior needed to force big business and government to stop the madness.

Director Robert Kenner is careful to let the farmers, the poor families, the workers and the advocates tell their stories, and this is where the movie finds its heart. A mother and daughter team lobby Congress for Kevin’s Law, which would empower a single food-safety agency to oversee food processors. The bill, caught up in the tug of war between moneyed corporations and consumer-protection activists, is named for the toddler who died after eating e coli-tainted hamburger, and whom we witness frolicking on the beach shortly before his demise. A seed cleaner is forced out of business, and others are silenced into submission, by a monopolistic law giving Monsanto unprecedented power to control the seeds farmers use. Secret footage documents workers toiling away in dangerous processing factories; such shots underline the relation between how society treats human labor and the products we end up serving to our families. Kenner interlaces the personal with evidence of how, even in light of increasing instances of food recalls and related illnesses, we seek to add more science—more ammonia or bleach, if you will—to the system, rather than make meaningful changes.

The film includes hopeful patches, such as a farmer in Virginia who allows his cows to grass feed, and has developed a seemingly profitable niche, with people traveling 50 miles to buy his admittedly more expensive beef. The idea of hidden costs is nicely handled (in a way that smarts) as a struggling Latino family demonstrates how cheap it is to feed a family of four at Burger King, as opposed to buying fresh vegetables. And there are moments throughout when even those who think they’ve gotten the message feel that twinge of guilt for having bought tomatoes at, say, Wal-Mart. Then again, there are moments that provoke more interesting debate, such as when the former owner of Stonyfield Farms yogurt reasons that only by working with Wal-Mart can society effect positive change toward better food and eating choices.

I know the frustration inherent to this debate. That little victory I referred to at the top? It was short-lived; about 15 minutes later, my son was on the phone to his father, who was at the grocery store, instructing him to add chocolate sauce to the shopping list.


Don’t step on them, they’re heroes: G-Force.

Talking Guinea Pigs Are Not Amusing

G-Force

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

Guinea pigs are a comical sight when they scamper, a visual that’s photographed to humorous effect several times in G-Force, the tale of a rodent task force genetically engineered for espionage. In its mix of live action and CGI, the guinea pigs and their mole technician (they also have bugs for reconnaissance) become less winsome and more annoying as the film’s live sequences give way to increasingly zany action scenarios.

The force’s mission is to prevent a corrupt billionaire (Bill Nighy) from world domination by infiltrating his cappuccino-machine company. For a first strike, a covert fly flies up his nose—a sight gag probably best appreciated by very young audiences. There’s an especially obnoxious interlude when the task force comes under the scrutiny of the FBI, and the rodents are sent to a south-of-the-border pet shop, where they make the acquaintance of a deranged hamster. The action is frenetic, insistently colorful, and is noticeably under the Jerry Bruckheimer imprint. Because of the inane dialogue and unappealing voicing (including Penelope Cruz and Nicolas Cage), the pigs lack personality, except for leader Darwin (Sam Rockwell) and his exasperated congeniality (particularly evident in a flirtation with a female task member). That the film’s humor holds little interest for parents, however, may be less of a concern than its emphasis on technology and spazzy plotting.

—Ann Morrow


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