Covering Big Food

Friday, July 17, 2009


Robert Kenner set out to make a documentary about the food industry, thinking he'd hear from both activists and industry insiders. But he quickly realized that the insiders wouldn't talk, farmers who did suffered consequences and, by the way, he needs a lot more lawyers. Kenner says the process was "Orwellian."

Comments [7]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Speaking of normal farmers, back in 1980, when it was still safe to at least narrow-cast about food contamination independently, I produced a public access television program out in Idaho quoting normal, albeit anonymous, farmers who had called in to a public television forum about cattle losses they felt they had sustained from low-level radioactive waste the state then still allowed to be shipped and buried there and the threat a state legislator had made on the program to have any claimants of agricultural contamination jailed. By setting my piece a year in the future, I appeared to be reading an essay I had published in the New Yorker, which conveniently has a single issue which brandishes the same illustration (Aaron Burr, perhaps?) every year. I went either unnoticed or ignored, though the Governor ended those shipments fairly shortly later.

When I cablecast the same tape in New Haven, literally while doing a consumer research survey for a McDonalds restaurant in Guilford, here someone in that organization must have noticed that I pointed out in the essay that all of McDonalds potatoes were produced at Lamm-Western in Idaho Falls and were washed in the water from a river normal farmers felt was contaminated, besides being irrigated with it. Two weeks later our downtown store announced that they were now using Maine Russett potatoes.

Jul. 22 2009 10:35 AM
Frank Morris from Kansas City

Big agribusinesses aren’t the only ones stonewalling in this debate.

I was asked by NPR to do a story discussing what conventional farmers thought of the movie. None of the farmers around here had seen it. The film, turns out, isn’t playing in any rural, Midwestern markets, where so many farmers live. So, I asked the publicists for Food Inc to send me a DVD to play for farmers. First they said yes. A few days later they said no. Then, they offered to set up a screening, and allow me to talk with their own, hand-picked farmers. “Sure”, I said, but I’ll invite the farmers. That’s when they stopped answering my calls and emails. It was, you know, like running into a stone wall.

The farmers I spoke with (anyway) agreed with most of the, to them familiar, points raised by Food Inc, after watching the trailer. None of them, not even the grain dealer, liked the way big companies like Monsanto do business. But, they also pointed out some problems with the idea that food should be produced more like it use to be. Farmers over vast stretches of the most productive parts of the US don’t have big local markets for their meat and grain. Their growing season is too short to make a living solely on lower-yielding organic crops, and there aren’t nearly enough people still living in the countryside to staff more labor intensive, smaller farms.

Details. Somehow, coverage of this film rarely seems to address them. The debate over food safety would be a lot more useful and interesting if normal farmers weren’t routinely left out of it.

Jul. 20 2009 01:38 PM
Brian from Minnesota

The more educated I become and the more information I have about our big ag food supply, the faster I go running to local, preferably organic, food suppliers. I expect to pay more for this food.

Jul. 20 2009 09:48 AM
Sean Kennedy from South Texas

Why is it that so many small farmers claim solidarity with big ag? It is like local hardware store being offended at the "liberal media" for attacking Walmart.

Jul. 19 2009 07:02 PM
Carrie from VT

I am so tired of farmers being vilified by the media. I live in Vermont, known for its small idyllic dairy farms, one of which my step-father and mother own, and many of which are going out of business. What our largely urban country doesn't seem to realize is that it is almost impossible for small family farmers to make a living because the American public demands cheap food. The price dairy farmers receive for their milk has not increased at nearly the same rate as the feed and other farming implements they must purchase to stay in business. While films like Food Inc do not directly target small farms, they have a negative impact on them by painting the food industry at large as an evil entity. I suggest listening to another NPR story about Food Inc to hear the farmers' side:

Jul. 19 2009 11:49 AM
Robert from NYC

Isn't it time we start connecting "things" in our lives. For example, here we are trying really hard to change healthcare in this country and one point is let's take preventive methods to preventing diseases like diabetes control via diet--just one example. Now, this episode about food contamination and frankly poisoning (arsenic in chicken?! oy!). The guest/filmmaker explains how there are laws protecting food producers from being bad mouthed (even if true) and a kind of mafia scare of getting even by the big food manufacturers (that lady and Perdue) for anyone who speaks up an. So how do we, or why don't we, reconcile the healthcare/preventive/diet aspect of our life with the poison and processing methods of our food and correct what is wrong here, and there sure is a lot wrong here. STated here in a morse code kind of talk due to space limitation.

Jul. 19 2009 10:57 AM
Bob from NC

I think the point that more information is helpful is true in the long term, but the first example (cloned animals) underscores the problem that worries the food industry: some things are not harmful but are incorrectly perceived as such. The scientific illiteracy of this country is creating a host of problems, creating irrational pressures on food supplies, medical practice, energy production and a host of other domains. Poor science reporting is not helping. While I would prefer to have more transparency in the food industry, I can at least sympathize with their fears. How could they not be paranoid when their economic survival is at risk from unpredictable and irrational memes that sweep through the culture unhindered by any ties to reality or science?

Jul. 18 2009 04:09 PM

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