Plot: What’s it about?
The politics of food subsidies, changes in the American diet, genetic modification of crops, stockyard conditions, seed patenting, the industrial organic industry, household economics, obesity and other diet-related diseases, and the surprising prevalence of corn and soy in the aisles of our supermarkets are just a few of the topics that Food, Inc. skitters past. By aiming for all-encompassing breadth instead of depth, the film is both alarming and overwhelming. But because it spends only a few minutes on any one topic, it makes a better appetizer than entree.
Of course it’s hard for any single film or book to shed light on the rapid changes that have taken place since our grandparents were young, in the way we grow, process, and eat our food, because the problems are not just numerous, but systemic. Richard Linklater understood this when he made Fast Food Nation, a fictional film inspired by Schlosser’s book. While some audiences were disappointed by the film’s prismatic, impersonal story, Linklater’s formal examination of the food chain is highly thought provoking. But truly unpacking the systemic problems of food production via storytelling would probably require a sprawling, multi-part, spider web of an epic, like the food-based equivalent of The Wire.
That’s one reason why I enjoy Pollan’s book; he illuminates aspects of the system by zoning in on a couple of its major pieces. His extensive profile of farmer Joel Salatin in The Omnivore’s Dilemma is particularly inspiring, and my favorite parts of Food, Inc. are when Salatin himself appears, wearing denim, suspenders, and a cowboy hat, to speak eloquently and passionately about his back-to-basics farming, where the sun and rain grow the grass, the grass feeds the cows, the chickens come in to pick at the remainder, and the eventual slaughter is done not only in the open air but in front of any customers who care to watch.
Video: How does it look?
“Food, Inc.” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with a VC-1 HD transfer. Admittedly it is somewhat spotty, but then again most documentaries are. I don’t go ito a film like this looking for pure perfection on screen and that’s a good thing because I didn’t get it. Still, the colors pop and that’s not necessarily a good thing given the subject matter.
Audio: How does it sound?
The DTS-HD Master Audio is a front-heavy listening experience with only a scant offering of discrete surround effects and score balancing out the mix. Bass is mostly nonexistent. What I was most surprised about, though, was how soft the mix was, particularly dialogue. I’m not sure why sound designers didn’t pump up the center channel for this release. It’s not like it would have been a difficult fix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Food, Inc. comes packed with a host of supplemental features, but none are really necessary as the documentary itself provides all the relevant information needed. There are deleted Scenes (38 minutes) Eight scenes, which are more like extended scenes than wholly new material as well as some celebrity PSA’s. More interesting is “You Are What You Eat: Eating with Integrity” and “The Amazing Food Detective and the Snacktown Smackdown” as well as a few Theatrical Trailers.