Food, Inc. 2

Food, Inc. 2

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My relationship with food is complicated. Very, very complicated. “I think most of us love food, but we don’t have to think about it every day, every hour,” says Larissa Zimberoff. Author of the investigative book Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change the Way We Eat and one of the many interview subjects in the documentary “Food, Inc. 2” (a sequel to, you guessed it, 2008’s “Food, Inc.”).

“I don’t want to make light of her condition.” I’ll sometimes actually ask my wife what she is thinking about for dinner at seven in the morning.

Something about me is that I will eat just about anything. And if there’s a new form of junk food I become aware of I try it at least once. You ever hear of Dwight Yoakam’s “Chicken Rings Afire?” No? I’ve had ‘em. They were … interesting.

This movie — directed by Robert Kenner and Melissa Robledo — picks up where the first one left off in exposing the mind-bogglingly unwholesome practices of America’s corporate food concerns in manipulating us to consume that which is bad for us. But it begins by sharing some good news. Which is that increased food consciousness is making healthy and still delicious options more available to us.

I’ve been following these issues casually long enough that when the first talking head was identified on screen I said, “Wow Michael Pollan got old.” He says “Food is a set of relationships,” and talks about how awareness of this fact has led to localization and more farmer’s markets than ever before. From then on it stops being good news for a while. “We thought we could create food system consistent with our values.” But the obstacles were great.

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, chronicles how prosperity among food providers went by the wayside due to monopolization in the 1950s. And how the pandemic gave the lie to the U.S.’s smug sense of sufficiency. The system thrived on predictability for being controlled by a small group of corporations. The COVID pandemic threw predictability out the window, and so chaos and shortages where there never should have been any, reigned.

The filmmakers stress connectivity, in keeping with Pollan’s opening statement. Mistreatment of migrant workers in Florida sets down a set of dominoes at the other end of a set that’s being turn by biolabs making “ultra-processed foods.” Climate change makes itself known, you bet. Soda companies blanche when presented with the fact that “if you reduce calories by artificial sweetener you’re doing more harm than good.” Fast food joints (or as they prefer to be called, “Quick Service Restaurants”) are going beyond supersizing in their portions while meanwhile there’s —

Food Inc. 2 always refreshing to see my beloved Baconator included in a montage of Things That Are Bad For You. And there was a point during the movie when I had to put away my Crunchy Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos out of shame. Why was I assigned the Food, Inc. 2 movie? But anyway.

Representing the forces of good are New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Who got involve in agricultural issues because he sees low-income constituents as “constant targets for the pushers” of addictive unhealthy food. And a few food producers who have turned their backs on corporate ways and embraced small-scale. Wholesome (for lack of a better word) innovations.

For every bright spot the movie offers. It seems compelled to counter with a “yes, but”; as when Schlosser expresses some skepticism about the plant-based burger. (It’s skepticism I share; but perhaps not for the same reasons.) “I really believe that kelp is gonna be the most sustainable food on the planet,” one sea farmer says. “Dig in!” I thought.

But seriously, Food, Inc. 2 is an engaging and watchable activist documentary that does make room for hope in its final minutes but doesn’t sugarcoat its message about changing our eating habits: “Not only can we do it, we have to.”

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