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After Food, Inc.: Will Anything Really Change?

With the Internet buzzing about Food, Inc., Cory Barker wonders what (if anything) will come of its release.

McDonalds and a Local Farm

Food, Inc. has many in the blogosphere all up in arms due to its sobering look at how factory farms truly operate. We’re sad that the Robert Kenner-directed, Eric Schlosser-produced documentaryhas yet to reach Indiana viewers, but the lessons from the film remain on our minds.

After reading the tremendous review of the film that Patricia Eddy wrote for us, I too was riled up about the deceptive tactics used by major factory farming operations.

However, something else, perhaps the cynical side of me kept creeping in – will this film actually change anything?

Sure, I can imagine watching the film will change the minds of individuals, perhaps even a whole lot of them. But will that truly improve anything? Let me be clear, I am not saying Food, Inc. is pointless or it won’t do its part to help break the “big food” stranglehold, I am just curious as to how much change is really possible, how it will happen and who will be involved.

It’s On Us, Can You Handle That?

Not surprisingly, the movement that may form in reaction to this film will be a collection of many individuals’ actions. In her review’s closing thoughts, Patricia Eddy says:

The most important takeaway that I have from the movie is that we need to vote with our shopping habits. Do you want to eliminate CAFO meat from your life? How about eliminating CAFO meat from the United States? Then don’t buy that CAFO meat from the grocery store. Shop the farmers markets, buy organic when you can, local whenever possible. Know what foods are in season. Don’t buy peaches in February. Read labels. Know what is in your food.

I don’t think Eddy is naive enough to suggest that a few individuals acting alone can help solve the problems presented in the film, but I wonder: can we really even put a dent in them?

At this point, post-release of Food, Inc. people who care passionately about these issues are energized by the film’s message and what they hope to accomplish in their grassroots battles against CAFOs, or whomever else.

But CAFOs are powerful, so, will any movements last much beyond the swirl surrounding the film’s release, especially when so many people are starving, losing their jobs or busy dealing with their own personal tragedies?

Change? Maybe.

To attempt to sketch out one possible answer to this question, why don’t we look to the response to another major food-related documentary released earlier this decade – Super Size Me.

After Morgan Spurlock’s 30-day diet of nothing but McDonald’s menu items and the release of the subsequent documentary, McDonalds did, in fact, phase out Super Size menu items. It was also around that time that the fast food giant began offering supposedly more “healthy” alternatives in the form of grilled chicken, salad, fruit, etc., but even those aren’t as healthy as they seem.

In the last five years, however, McDonald’s market share in the fast food industry has actually increased to 46.8% while it has been quick to release new products into the marketplace that have quickly become popular, like the McCafe coffee line.

So, aside from some lawsuits here and there, which McDonald’s was surely dealing with before the film hit theaters, and a more general disdain for their products and practices by the socially-aware, McDonald’s is still chugging along as a worldwide power.

Even Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation and film adaptation of that material failed to really mobilize a greater movement against the golden arches.

Is it because people just love the food at McDonald’s? Partially. Is it because they didn’t have all the cool social networking devices like Twitter or Facebook at their disposal to spread the anti-McDonald’s gospel? Maybe just a little.

In reality, sad as it is to say, the lack of progress made against McDonald’s and fast food in general is likely due to both the apathy of most people and the sheer size of the corporations and sectors they’d have to rise up against.

People act in their own self interest, and even if they know that we are a fat nation. If it does not seem to directly affect them, and they still get to eat Double Cheeseburgers at reasonable prices, they’re still pro-McDonald’s.

Does their self interest also apply to Factory Farming?

Be Optimistic, But Not Unrealistic

I think so.

I imagine that for the rest of the summer, the general public will become more and more enthralled with the movement to fight The Powers That Be portrayed in Food, Inc. But, by the time fall rolls around, they’ll forget that for the most part unless it comes up in water cooler-like discussions.

The diehard environmentally conscious, anti-factory farming camp are certainly not going to let this go away. They’ll tweet about it, they’ll start Facebook groups and craft posts more optimistic than this one.

And I hope that they actually get a movement started that does change some things, if even a little. But even the most optimistic person has to recognize the forces we’re up against here. It’s a sad reality, and even worse that an underground movement probably can’t fix everything.

But they can try.

What do you think?

Will Food, Inc. change how we look at food and farming? Leave a comment and tell us what you think the movie’s lasting impact will be.

Cory Barker

Cory Barker is a summer intern for Earth Eats and senior IU student from Hartford City, Indiana. He is double majoring in journalism and communication and culture with a minor in business.

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