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Food, Inc.

(2009) *** 1/2 Pg
94 min. Magnolia Pictures. Director: Robert Kenner (II). Cast: Eric Schlosser, Joel Salatin, Richard Lobb, Carole Morison, Troy Roush.

/content/films/3460/2.jpgAs someone who’s always warning filmgoers away from cinematic junk food, I have to bow down to those movies that go against the grain (specifically the corn--more on that anon) by decrying America’s poor eating habits. Following Richard Linklater’s 2006 fiction adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction bestseller Fast Food Nation, the author has lent his authority to Robert Kenner’s documentary film Food, Inc.

Kenner’s film about the problems plaguing worldwide food supply and animal and human health may not burst with scoops--it mostly retraces the steps of Schlosser’s book--but the film demonstrates that little has changed for the better. More usefully, it provides counter-balance to its own doom-saying with numerous suggestions of how to deal with the corporatization of food.

The film begins not with Schlosser but Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), who explains that “the way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous ten thousand. But the image that’s used to sell the food—it is still the imagery of agrarian America…the reality is a factory. It’s not a farm.” On the subject of demand, Pollan explains how we’ve become “hard-wired” for salt, fat, and sugar, leading to a growing epidemic of early-onset diabetes.

Though diffused by its large topic, the film mostly focuses on supply, of corn-fed meat and corn-based products, which account for a staggering number of items on supermarket shelves and fast-food menus. It’s all made possible by the assembly-line model, designed for its economic efficiency and justified by its customer guarantee of uniformity.

Food Inc. paints a fairly dire picture of the stranglehold multinational conglomerates have on our food supply. Workers get exploited and farmers cornered by these companies, whose government ties and deep pockets allow them to do whatever they like. Regulatory agencies are toothless, and e. coli is an ongoing threat. Worse, access to quality food is a class issue.

But before you move to France, Food, Inc. offers some alternatives: Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, proposes beating the system by joining the system or as he puts it, being Goliath instead of David. And for the ordinary consumer, Kenner follows the advocacy doc formula by hopefully ending the film with manifesto and website.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/3/2009

Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Magnolia brings Food, Inc. to DVD and Blu-ray in matching editions, but the hi-def "bump" provided by Blu-ray presents Robert Kenner's film at its best. Boldly vibrant color, spot-on contrast, and sharp detail highlight this transfer, which loses nothing in translation from its source; likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides definitive lossless audio. With the possible exception of a movie theater, there's no better way to experience one of the top docs of 2009.

The disc also includes a sampling of standard-definition extras, beginning with eight "Deleted Scenes" (37:44, SD). This not-insignificant collection of trimmed footage is easily the best of the bonus features, since it adds, ahem, meaty context to the film.

Seven informative "Celebrity Public Service Announcements" (7:14, SD) include spots hosted by Alyssa Milano, Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Sheen.

The 2009 ABC News Nightline segment "'You Are What You Eat': Food with Integrity" (7:21, SD) promotes the environmentally responsible business model of Chipotle.

"'The Amazing Food Detective' and 'Snacktown Smackdown': Stay Active and Eat Healthy" (3:05, SD) is a Kaiser Permanente-produced educational animated short on diet and health.

Also on hand are a list of web Resources; a plug for Food, Inc. - The Book; and, presented in high definition, the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:12, HD).

The disc is also BD-Live-enabled and includes a Bookmarks feature. Magnolia's commitment to multi-platform releases pays off again with a concurrent issue of BD and DVD editions of Food, Inc. that aims to please all segments of the home-viewing audience.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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