Giant processing plants. Animals injected with hormones and chemicals standing in their own excrement, being fed genetically engineered corn and grains to make them fatter. Chickens that never see sunlight, can barely support their own weight . . . It's not a pretty picture.
But Food, Inc. is an essential one.
Incorporating information from Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma - as well as talking-head commentary from the two authors and other experts, farmers, food advocates, and government officials - the film is a blistering indictment of giant food conglomerates such as Tyson and Monsanto. (Representatives of the companies cited were asked to respond - all refused.)
The documentary offers a none-too-comforting look at how the FDA and USDA have been rendered powerless by legislation and court rulings, and how a revolving door between international food corporations and the federal government has led to lax health and safety controls.
Another startling issue is secrecy: the lack of basic information available to consumers about what they are eating. Kenner uses footage from a California legislative hearing to show how agribusiness interests lobbied the state to keep labels off meats indicating that they came from cloned animals. Yes, cloned animals.
Food, Inc. is advocacy filmmaking, and Kenner doesn't trying to conceal that. He's out to scare people - parents with young children, low-income families who depend on fast foods to get by, politicians, food safety officials, all of us. And he succeeds.
He follows Barbara Kowalcyk, a mother whose 21/2-year-old son died from eating tainted hamburger, as she lobbies Congress to reinstate laws that give the USDA the power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meats. The boy, Kevin, died in 2001. "Kevin's Law," or the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act, still hasn't been passed.
Maybe that family growing veggies on the back lawn of the White House should take a look at Food, Inc.
Maybe they already have.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.