Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
May 1, 2009 08:26 PM

The documentary, "Food, Inc." Seen it?

I loved the comment about the images used to sell food: "the spinning of this pastoral fantasy."

Watch the YouTube excerpt (3.5 minutes):

More info here:

Comments on the documentary, pro or con?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I like that last line.... more or less... The multinationals don't want the farmers talking etc., very interesting... could the gag order / censoring be at play in something as trivial as a dumb food blog?

    1. Looks very interesting I'll look forward to seeing it. Have you seen "Asparagus" the movie? It's playing on PBS here.
      Hopefully "Food" gets more people thinking about what they consume and where it comes from.

      29 Replies
      1. re: Fritter

        Watched most of "Asparagus" and it just reinforced my belief that everything has an unexpected consequence. Pay Peruvians to grow asparagus instead of coca, ruin the US farmers' livelihood. My heart broke for those farmers--we as a country have been so intent on cheap that we've forgotten about anything else.

        It aggravates me no end when asparagus (or apples, corn, cherries, whatever) is in season here that the larger grocery stores still sell cheap non local stuff, undercutting local farmers. But at least we are seeing more stores making "local" a virtue.

        I hope these movies help continue the national conversation about food too, Fritter.

        1. re: coney with everything

          "But at least we are seeing more stores making "local" a virtue"

          Yes! It's so nice to actually see local food in the stores once again. Whole Foods had Mi Asparagus this week.

          1. re: Fritter

            Just saw the movie...but Whole Foods in our area (DC) advertises local as anywhere in the Northeast or Midatlantic.

            To me, this isn't local. There are TONS of farms WF could buy from, but because those farms can't produce enough to stock a store or two, WF won't do it. When I lived in Massachusetts, WF stocked local produce. It's really sad that people think shopping there means buying local - all the local produce is labeled, and to me - in DC - Maine isn't local.

            (But it is better than Chile!)

            1. re: Jeserf

              When I worked for WFM, there was much more regional buying going on, even at the store level. The produce buyer was free to set up relationships with local farmers, since accounting was done in store. Now that WFM has grown, they are doing accounting regionally. This makes it MUCH more difficult for buyers to accomplish a successful account with a local farmer, but it's really up to the individual buyer at your local store how many hoops he/she (and the farmer) is willing to jump through to get that product in the store. My advice would be to talk with the produce buyer in your store, bring him or her outstanding product from a local farmer in your area, his name and number, and push to get that product in your store. It will help if you have some idea whether the farmer can provide the store with a significant shipment or at least rotating crops so it is worth both the buyer's and the farmer's time to establish that account. In other words, they won't probably bother if this is a short term deal. I hope this helps...

              1. re: amyzan

                and just a note: how far is it from Fresno to San Francisco or LA? 200 miles? a lot of the california "local" food movement benefits from coming from a very long state.

                1. re: FED

                  I have a big US map over my desk. California is "10 inches long."
                  If I use that same "10 inches" from my home in Washington DC, it encompasses the entire East Coast from Maine to Orlando, Florida, and as far West as Michigan and Illinois, plus parts of Wisconsin, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. Everything to the East of the Mississippi is included.
                  Whole Foods uses this definition: " While only products that have traveled less than a day (7 or fewer hours by car or truck) can even be considered for "local" designation, most stores have established even shorter maximum distances."
                  You can get pretty far from a farm to a warehouse in 7 hours. How many hours do they allow from the warehouse?

                  I really hate when concepts become trendy or cool, and then the words start to lose their meaning.
                  I know what I mean by "local," and Maine, Alabama, or Michigan ain't it.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Seems like a bit of nit picking to me. While WF is far from perfect it's a lot better than the other stores in my area where 99.9% of the produce is from another country and I don't mean Canada. Not only can I get Michigan asparagus here (MI) they advertise the farm name.
                    At least it's a step in the right direction.

                    1. re: Fritter

                      It is hard to believe that at the height of the growing season in the US that the stores in Michigan would be selling cantaloupe, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and other produce from outside the country. There is a lot of farmland in the Mid-West from which they should be able to get local produce. Something doesn't add up.

                      I buy a lot from farmers' markets but lately the local groceries in Washington have been giving them serious competition with large amounts of their produce from local farmers in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware (the Delmarva,) as well as North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A lot of it is organic and most of it has been terrific. Some is better than the farmers' markets.

                      Of course regular stores are doing this. It's trendy and consumers want it. It sells.
                      The problem becomes the definition of "local" which has become yet another Red Queen word, meaning whatever somebody wants it to mean.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Someone who works in supermarket produce once explained to me that one reason we are liable to see produce shipped in from far away in supermarkets even at the height of local growing season (something I saw to some extent when I lived in the Northeast) is that large produce distributors who supply grocery chains stipulate in their contracts that for the best terms, the stores must buy from them year-round. The stores need their product in the cold months, less so in the growing season when they can buy from local farms, so this is their way of guaranteeing they get year-round business. So, the stores will get peaches, asparagus - whatever - and the distibutor may be sourcing them from far away because it got the best deal. Some groceries will also have local product, some won't bother buying from nearby.

                        In NY, independent groceries and farmers' markets were the only places I could get local strawberries in the summer; the grocery chains invariably sold tasteless California berries even in July, though they sold plenty of New Jersey blueberries and corn and tomatoes.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          Someone who worked in the supermarket may have "once explained" that to you and it may still be true for some distributors, but things have changed dramatically in the past couple of years since you lived in the NE.
                          When consumers jumped on the "local" foods bandwagon, the chains were forced to respond or lose sales. The lost revenue was worse than having to pay higher wholesale prices to distributors. The distributors reacted by adding local suppliers to their offerings.
                          Most groceries here in the NE are making a major deal out of local produce offerings. It sells.

                          I just bought California strawberries at the supermarket in Washington DC. They taste great, regardless of where they came from. There are NO local ones now because the season is over in this area. They are a Spring crop here.
                          Sometimes stores will source from "far away" because consumers expect certain things that are not in season or they don't grow locally.
                          I also had to buy South African oranges. It was either those or the old US navels from last Fall that have been in storage. At least the S. African ones are fresh and the ones I bought last week were delicious.
                          The blues were from NJ, the cantaloupe, corn, and peaches from NC, but those things are in season in this area. The papaya from Belize, the pineapple from somewhere in Central America. Who knows or cares where the grapes are from? Cherries don't grow here.
                          Local? Some was. Some wasn't. I bought the best quality I could find by shopping three different markets.

                          Local should not become a fetish. If the store can get high quality to me at a good price in the shortest possible time, we are able to have very good fresh food and eat well.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I didn't say "someone who worked in the supermarket," but "someone who works in supermarket produce" - in this case, a man whose career is in supermarket produce procurement. His remarks were not specific to the Northeast, and I related them as a possible explanation for what Fritter posted as his experience.

                            As for my remarks about strawberries, I was simply saying that most markets did not carry local berries when they were available (July in the NYC area), but sold inferior berries from "far away" instead. If your markets have great-tasting berries from California, good for them (and a boon for you). People everywhere want fruits and vegetables that may not be in season where they are or do not grow locally, and so markets all from coast to coast carry produce from other states and countries.

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              As you say, "some [groceries] may not bother buying from nearby," but they will lose business if that is what customers demand. They will find distributors who will give them what they need to succeed and that's not hard.
                              The major national and regional grocery chains are "market makers," because they can buy in such huge quantities. They have their own buyers and distribution chains, so they don't need distributors. The smaller guys who use distributors have to compete with the big guys, so they are forced to seek out distributors or groups of them who can provide competitive products. The distributors have to adjust to the demands of that group of stores or they lose business.
                              "Local" produce is the hot item now and is being touted in mass media - even the women's magazines at supermarket checkouts and downscale publications - so shoppers are looking for it. Supermarkets who want to stay in the game have to provide at least some of it in season, even if it is mixed in with some product from across the continent.
                              There are a lot of people now looking for local produce who never before noticed that it has always been in stores. This isn't really new, just the "new thing," and it's being heavily advertised and promoted because people want it.
                              This is the normal pattern for all retail - not just food - and the merchants adjust or they fail.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                As someone remarked earlier in the WF part of the thread ... the size of supermarket chains plays a large role in determining how local they can get. For most of the country, there just isn't a distribution system set up that can get fruits and vegetables efficiently from small farms to the large markets (remember, even a small chain of, say, 50 stores will require the pooled produce of many, many farms to keep it supplied).
                                You can say what you want about California produce, but there is an extremely efficient system of packing houses, wholesalers and distributors that can get those strawberries from the many fields to the many markets.
                                It takes a lot of effort on the part of a local chain to set up an alternative to that. And say what you will about WF, they have gone further in that direction than just about anyone (Wegman's being one outstanding exception).

                                1. re: FED

                                  California has done a lot with growers' coops too. That is what makes local to supermarket feasible. Small farmers can't deal with the big guys and vice versa. Just not the way the real world works. But growers coops can and do in many cases.
                                  There is a real need for more coops, consolidators, brokers, etc. to get the produce from multiple small farmers into the supply chain.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    Just wanted to mention how farmers markets are changing the California produce scene. I can't think of many neighborhoods that don't have their own farmers markets now - some have multiple markets through the course of the week - some will have more than one on the same day.

                                    Many of these small farmers find it worth it to trek from places as far as Modesto to hit LA farmers markets on a regular basis. This may stretch the sense of "local," but in the end, it's an issue of money. If these farmers feel they can make more by vertically integrating their product stream, then more power to them.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      I think we all appreciate that CA has a vibrant farmers' market scene, but please understand that this does not extrapolate to the rest of the US where farmers' markets are highly seasonal. We wish they weren't but the US climate make this so.
                                      Additionally, even in California, the vast majority of people still purchase most of their food at supermarkets. They're working or attending to other things when the farmers' markets are open, or they want the convenience of one-stop shopping. Some people don't even like farmers' markets.
                                      Until we can solve the problem of getting the local foods into the markets where most people shop, they won't be available to the majority of people. That would open new markets to farmers, spare them the time and expense of driving long distances to towns where farmers' markets are popular, and allow more small farmers to become profitable even when they don't farm near cities.
                                      Cost effective vertical integration should include middle-men who consolidate crops. It would make farming more profitable and local produce more available to a wider range of shoppers.
                                      Of course, nothing would stop farmers from driving to markets themselves, but working together might enhance their productivity and profitability.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        I get the impression that one of the major issues "driving" small farmers to various farmers markets are the consolidators. I've seen many articles mentioning this and how small farmers are doing better by cutting out any middle-men. I don't personally know any farmers so I can't vouch for this.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          There are always bad brokers and consolidators who pay farmers poorly, or don't give them a fair price for their crops. Sometimes the farmers have to accept it if they don't have any other way of getting the perishable goods to market. Nobody should support that situation.
                                          Farmers can however band together and form coops, or demand fair prices from brokers. Farmers can even grow specific crops "to order" under contract with good brokers.
                                          If farmers work together, they can maximize their power and their profits.

                                          One of the problems is that farmers are an independent lot and often resist efforts to organize. They prefer to work alone, even though they make far less money driving long distances to sell their own crops.
                                          I know both farmers and fisherman for whom this is true. They don't apply sound business practices when they make decisions in many cases. They think that they are coming out ahead because they aren't actually factoring in all the costs, and they might often be better off with brokers.

          2. re: coney with everything

            Not having watched the movie... I have been to Peru and had Asparagus there... and thought it was generally superior to what is available in California. Given the inverse growing season and the quality of the product, and the free trade agreement in place.... I wonder if Peruvian Asparagus was bound to be marketed here anyway?

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Sure, since we seem to think that out of season produce is a good thing. But the movie makes the point that we took down the tariffs against Peruvian asparagus, plus some non-farm commodities, in exchange for them cracking down on the drug trade.

              We basically destroyed commercial asparagus farming in Washington state and it's on its deathbed in Michigan. And really it's not "fresh" asparagus that's the issue, it's the commercial processing--frozen, canned, baby food--that has been the industry killer.

              A fantastic example of the law of unintended consequences. Not saying we shouldn't do something about drugs, but no one considered the domestic fallout from this, or if they did they blew it off since asparagus farmers don't have a lot of lobbyists.

              1. re: coney with everything

                Again I haven't seen the movie... but I should note that the idea that we took down tariffs against Asparagus to crack down on Coca is seriously misleading. The Andean Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1991... and was a legacy of the country's cold war policy. The main driver was to strengthen what in Historic circles is known as Neo-Liberal politicians (although in the U.S. context it is more analogous to Free Trade promoting Republicans) against Sendero Luminoso.

                In 2006 it was simply ratified... but there was resistance from both sides of the Aisle... so they added the "Drug Eradication" part of the act to get certain people to vote for it.

                Now... what was happening is that the U.S. was not living up to its obligations under the 1991 FTA using a bunch of b.s. regulatory measures to buy U.S. Asparagus farmers time to adapt... I don't know what year the U.S. finally dropped its de facto quota restrictions on Peruvian asparagus... but certainly when it happened it would have impacted U.S. farmers.

                HOWEVER... and this frustrates me because I don't understand if its just that we are all gullible, ignorant & clueless or if there is a substantial campaign of misinformation... U.S. Farmers are NOT being decimated by Peruvian asparagus at all.

                If you do some research you will find that the Peruvian farmers are having a very hard time staying in business. In 1990, their fresh asparagus would fetch $50 for a 5 kilo box today its $9. Part of the reason is that the U.S. is now flooded with Asparagus grown in Northern Mexico whose peak season coincides with Peru's peak season.

                I should note at this time... that all of Peru's asparagus.. and I mean ALL grows in the Arid coasts and NOT in the Andes where Coca is grown. These Asparagus farmers are almost exclusively wealthy, gentlemen farmers descended from the original colonialists... its the same people growing grapes for wine & pisco etc., only a miniscule portion of Peru's export quality Asparagus is grown by small farmers and again there is no option of growing coca in the arid coastal lands.

                Further... lets get down to the nitty gritty... the farmers in Michigan are not being decimated because the U.S. is importing Peruvian Asparagus. The stuff grown in Michigan is overwhelmingly processed for domestic & export markets. What has happened is that they used to have a big share of the European markets... but they have lost that, yes Peru at some level... but really its Chinese asparagus. Even though Peruvian processed Asparagus enters the EU without tariffs, and Chinese asparagus gets a 16% tariff... the Chinese product is still cheaper. Michigan farmers are being decimated by Chinese farmers not Peruvian or Mexican etc.,

                In general.. the production of Asparagus is sharply higher as new competitors including Greece & Spain have flooded export markets that used to be dominated by U.S. farmers.

                Now I am not at all urging anyone to buy Peruvian asparagus... and I fully support buying local, slow foods etc., but I just think people should get the facts straight so that we aren't unintendedly mislead by activist filmmakers who don't feel the need to hold themselves to the intellectual rigours of an academic.

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Interesting answer, EatNopal. And actually it's California and Washington, if I understand correctly, that so far have been harmed the most by the imports.

                  Don't know about misinformation, but another source from a couple of years ago that fingers Peruvian asparagus as a cause of trouble:

                  Frankly, I like asparagus but you can't eat it every day even in season. It's not a "staple" vegetable like potatoes or carrots. Something's gotta give here with all these producers. I fear that cheap will win over good...again.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    "all of Peru's asparagus.. and I mean ALL grows in the Arid coasts and NOT in the Andes where Coca is grown"

                    If you had seen the movie you would know that was the point the asparagus growers are making. It's probably far more likely one could be mislead by a google academic on the internet that an activist film maker for a show airing on PBS.
                    As an American my first choice is supporting American farmers and buying local products when ever possible.
                    There is currently a relief bill waiting for a signature from the POTUS.


                    1. re: Fritter

                      The U.S. is the top producer of Asparagus in the world... Peru is the 2nd... it has been this way since prior to the Andea Trade Agreement.... subsidies to Coca farmers are NOT in any way impacting the price of Asparagus. Coffee yes, Cacao yes... Asparagus.. no.

                      1. re: Fritter

                        Further here is what is utterly ignorant & short sighted about any effort to curb Peruvian asparagus imports.... take the Peruvians out, the price for Asparagus will grow dramatically as will the Asparagus production in Baja & Sonora.

                        I heard one of the big Mexican growers of Asparagus on a public radio broadcast from Mexico City... on a conference regarding how to turn Baja into a big time global Ag player... the big limitation is water... its the crux of everything as is the case in Alta California. They are watching the impacts of climate change on California very carefully... if water becomes scarce enough in the Central Valley as evidence suggests... then California Ag prices are expected to rise dramatically within a decade... if prices go up enough Baja will be able to afford doing a major water project.

                        Talk about unintended consequences... if you get your wish & South American produce is restricted from the California market + the cost of doing business (vis a vis scarcity of water) you are going to empower a new giant just a few miles away. In the end it might not matter... the salinity in the Sacramento (below Sac County) may be so bad that American consumers will be begging Baja to ramp up their ag production and be happy about it.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          Well, water is one thing we are NOT short of in Michigan.

                          1. re: coney with everything

                            cwe, I just saw a film called "Flow" about water - and a Michigan community is featured. A big bottler is taping into some of that abundance, and the locals do not like it.
                            (It's available on Netflix.)

                            1. re: pitu

                              Yeah, Ice Mountain/Nestle was sued, and they were just ordered to reduce the amount of water they took from the groundwater. They also have to reduce what they take even further in spring and summer.

                              But we still have the Greats. Ain't never gonna suck those dry, at least in my lifetime :)

                2. re: coney with everything

                  so is paying Peruvians to grow asparagus part of our "war on drugs"

              2. Will definitely look for it. Sounds like the food version of "Sicko."

                "It looks like a tomato, but it's kind of a notional tomato." How true! Can't wait for natives!

                Thanks for the heads-up on Asparagus, too, Fritter.

                P.S. How geeky of me to say, but the ECU on the shopping cart wheel reminds me of the "Six Feet Under" opening credits!

                1. Two reviews today of the movie:

                  New York Times:
                  Eat, Drink, Think, Change

                  San Francisco Chronicle:
                  'Food, Inc.': Documentary on your dinner

                  If you see the movie, post your thoughts...


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Thanks for posting these links. I can't wait to see the film.

                  2. Yes, have seen it. Excellent movie. Will it make a difference? Yes, but only to the already converted. Sadly, we Americans are not going to change when the option of fast food, convenience, and price are at the top of our lists.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: RaquelFoodie

                      That's what i thought about Al Gore's movie, and i am CONVINCED that film had a HUGE impact on the environmental movement. That said, food inc. wasn't made by Al Gore, but if it gets out on youtube in x amount of months, i think it could make a positive impact to people who don't even know what "slow food" is.

                      With this said, if you're a single mom working 2 jobs, you're not gonna have time/money to go to farmer's markets, etc. So, unless sustainable practices are scalable, we'll NEVER get everyone on board, despite what anyone tells us. This is why the guy from the yogurt co. had a brilliant point that when Wal Mart places another $1 million order, that actually does change the game. I hate Wal Mart, but ideology must be put to the side for results, IMO.

                      1. re: upstarter

                        ...this is why the idea of food aid - "food stamps" - needs to change. Food stamps should be more valuable for low fat dairy, fruit, veggies, and even more if used at a farmers market.

                        Lower income people should be discouraged from an economic standpoint from buying processed food, and if food aid is worth more at a farmers market, everybody wins.

                        1. re: Jeserf

                          I think that just puts lower income people into a worse situation than they're already in. Many people rely on public transport, which is often inconvenient and expensive. From where I live now, you can either pay $7 round trip to spend almost 4 hours on a bus round trip to get to the farmer's market or walk 30 minutes round trip to get to the nearest supermarket. The savings you'd get on the food stamps wouldn't nearly make up for the time and money lost by spending half a day buying food.

                          1. re: queencru

                            You may be assuming that they shop like you do. Many food stamp shoppers do a major food run at the beginning of the month and load up on staples. Overflowing basket or maybe two of them. A friend's car or a taxi to get them home with their purchases. Then they fill in with milk, bread, or whatever during the rest of the month from corner stores that take WIC or food stamps.
                            They may be poor but they ain't dumb. Pretty resilient and resourceful folks.