Premiering Soon: Industrial Food Chain
The year 2006 will go down as a high watermark in our collective obsession with the industrial food chain.
In the spring came the book release of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's deconstruction of conventional and organic food. As late summer rolled around, we hunted for the source of the Great Spinach Outbreak in the epicenter of industrial produce production. Now autumn has brought us a choice of not one, but two movies that take us on a queasy field-to-fork ride.
Fast Food Nation is director Richard Linklater's fictional rendering of Eric Schlosser's 2001 expose of the fast food industry. Read the book. Haven't seen the movie. From the reviews I've seen, though, the cinematic version, while not a faithful adaptation, features plenty of cringe-inducing scenes in slaughterhouses.
Ditto for Our Daily Bread, a dialogue-less montage of scenes of modern food production, that "looks without commenting," according to the movie's Web site.
Maybe this is the beginning of a new genre of slasher flick -- the pastoral horror.
The difference, though, between watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and watching the food chain kind is after 90 minutes of the former, you get to return to the safety of your own home. After the 90 minutes of the latter, everything mundane becomes sinister. Next time you look at a hamburger, all you will see are E. coli bacteria staring back at you.
The question becomes what to do about the way we produce food, if anything.
That's what a whole host of people are wrapping their brains around right now. Since the Great Spinach Outbreak, academics, public health officials, lawmakers, industry trade groups -- you name it -- are scurrying around trying to figure out if there are changes that can be made in the fields and in the processing plants before next spring, when the central California growing season resumes, to reassure consumers their food is safe.
Of course any such changes are likely to be incremental and there are folks who think bigger ones are in order. Do you think the confluence of books, outbreaks and movies will have any affect on what happens next or on your own consumption habits?
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