In the age of digital video and online distribution, activist documentaries like Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. are no longer rare or particularly surprising. Kenner’s well-made if overreaching film takes on the corporatized food industry in America, exposing lax safety standards, poor treatment of workers and incestuous commingling between food conglomerates and regulatory agencies. It’s unlikely that the primary audience for this film—people with progressive values who already lean toward supporting organic, locally grown food—will learn much new information, and the people Kenner undoubtedly would like to reach—average Americans content to eat fast food and shop at large chain grocery stores—will probably never see the film.
So it always goes with movies like this, but at least Kenner manages to pack a lot of information into 90 minutes, shedding light on a few surprising issues (libel laws that prevent even the hint of criticism of certain industries, the cutthroat patent protectionism enforced over genetically engineered crops) while rehashing others that have been covered extensively even in mainstream media (the spread of E. coli outbreaks, the unpleasant conditions of modern factory farms). He’s not above using home-video footage of a 3-year-old who died of food poisoning to manipulate audience emotions, but most of his arguments are more rational, and unlike a lot of recent agit-filmmakers, he takes time to offer a few positive alternatives to all the doomsaying. Not enough, of course, to actually effect change, but at least he’s doing more than simply complaining to the converted.