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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Food, Inc.’ director condemns food industry

Published: March 5, 2010
Section: News

Director of the documentary “Food, Inc.” Robert Kenner visited Brandeis on Sunday to talk about his film, which he described as just one piece of a much larger crusade against the food industry.

This crusade began when people began to realize the health problems posed by fast food chains, as illustrated by documentaries like Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super Size Me,” Kenner explained.

However, Kenner said the problem of unhealthy food options has extended beyond McDonalds making it difficult for healthy eaters to find suitable food.

“There seems to be this incredible, growing movement that ‘Food, Inc.’ played into,” he said, “It’s all happening really quickly and it’s very exponential.”

“Food, Inc.” covers the pitfalls of modern farming, including the industry’s mistreatment of workers and animals, the widespread use of genetically modified crops, especially corn and soy, and the unsanitary conditions on many farms that lead to e-coli and salmonella outbreaks.

The film also demonstrated the negative effects these issues have on consumers like health problems such as diabetes and obesity, and the obscene strength of large food corporations in the American government.

“Ultimately, it’s the story of how this low-cost food we’ve created is coming to us at a very high cost,” Kenner said, emphasizing how even though some foods may have small price tags, they actually carry hidden expenses.

Kenner cited animal cruelty as an example.

Genetically modified to grow bigger, faster and with more white meat, chickens, are often kept in very cramped, windowless houses.

“Today chicken is very cheap to produce. But as you see in the film, it’s become a different creature,” said Kenner.

It’s not just the animals who suffer, Kenner said. Workers in animal plants tend to have meager wages and dangerous assembly line jobs. As unskilled laborers, they are easily replaceable and are often illegal immigrants who feel powerless to complain about their working conditions.

“In my mind, we’re treating our workers as bad as the animals,” Kenner said.

Kenner played a clip from his interview with Joel Salatin, an organic farmer featured in the film, to emphasize this point.

Salation explained that it is necessary to treat farm animals well because “honoring and respecting the pigness of the pig” is the foundation for treating all creatures humanely.

It’s not surprising, Kenner explained, that an industry in which animal abuse is so prominent also abuses its human laborers.

He also stressed the negative effect modern farming has on consumers, citing the fact that commercial foods highly concentrated in fat, sugar and salt are responsible for the extreme rise of obesity and early onset diabetes in the United States.

In addition, Kenner said, the right to eat healthy food has become a privilege of the upper class because it is very expensive.

Kenner also pointed to “food deserts,” places with no grocery stores, as contributing to poor American eating habits.

“There is not one supermarket in the city of Detroit,” only convenience stores, Kenner said, to illustrate his point.

“We’ve created a totally unsustainable system that’s bad for the earth, bad for the workers, but it’s also bad for the consumers,” he said.

He also said very strict libel laws, which make it difficult to speak out against food companies, contribute to the growing power of the food industry.

“This is a film about more than food. It’s about our rights. And it’s about social justice,” said Kenner.

Despite it all, Kenner’s lecture ended on a hopeful note. He explained that consumers have the ability to improve the way the food industry works. For example, Wal-Mart, which was featured in the film, stopped selling milk with the growth hormone rBST, as a direct response to consumer demand for safer milk.

Kenner’s speech was directed to educate Brandeis students, but many students are already at the forefront of this movement. A group of clubs, is leading campus participation in the Real Food 2020 campaign.

“The point of this is to have 20 percent of the food [at Brandeis] to come from local sources by 2020,” said Emilie Schuler ’11, who is helping to organize this operation. “We have so much power, because we are the consumers here,” she added.

Kenner is all for this movement. “As we begin to realize the consequences [of this industry’s actions], we will really try to get out there and change it,” Kenner said at the end of the lecture, “And it’s going to be from people like you.”

Kenner was brought to Brandeis by Students for Environmental Action, in conjunction with Students for Natural Living, Students for a Democratic Society and the Brandeis Democrats.