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Originally published June 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 17, 2009 at 7:10 AM

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"Food, Inc.": New documentary looks into the business of food

The new movie "Food, Inc." purports to show the danger lurking in mass-produced foods. Director Robert Kenner — along with authors Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") — hopes the documentary will raise awareness about agribusiness the same way "An Inconvenient Truth" alerted viewers to problems of global warming. The movie opens in Seattle on Friday, June 19.

The Associated Press

"Food, Inc."

Opens Friday in Seattle. For a review by Seattle Times writer Michael Upchurch, see Ticket/MovieTimes on Friday.

NEW YORK — The new documentary "Food, Inc." begins with idyllic scenes of American farmland, panning from golden fields of hay to a solitary cowboy rounding up a herd of cattle. Then the camera zooms in on a grocery cart overflowing with packaged food and rolling down the aisles of a gaudily lit supermarket.

Eerie, horror-movie-style music swells in the background. It's meant to signal the audience that the pastoral fantasy of agrarian America on everything from packages of breakfast sausage to cereal boxes is not what it seems.

Director Robert Kenner shows us poultry houses where chickens never see the light of day and are pumped so full of chemicals they produce more meat than their organs can support. Eventually they collapse under the weight of their abnormally large breasts and die before reaching the slaughterhouse.

Kenner relates the heart-wrenching story of Republican-turned-activist Barbara Kowalcyk, who prowls the halls of Congress with her mother to try to force lawmakers to enact food-safety legislation that she believes could have saved the life of her 2 ½-year-old son Kevin, who died of E. coli poisoning 12 days after eating contaminated hamburgers.

Kenner is hoping his film will raise awareness of the enormous price in health and safety that he says Americans pay to gorge themselves on the relatively cheap calories that stock supermarket shelves courtesy of a handful of multinational corporations.

Just as the Oscar-winning 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" helped galvanize the fight against global warming, Kenner and his partners want to spur legions of activists to rise up and take aim at lawmakers and government regulators they believe have been corrupted by lobbyists for agribusiness.

An alliance of trade associations representing the nation's meat and poultry producers have set up a Web site to counter virtually every claim in the film.

The food industry says the film has "an astonishing number of half-truths, errors and omissions" and that scrapping current production methods in favor of locally grown, seasonal organic food would result in a dramatic increase in food prices and fewer fruits and vegetables year-round.

Kenner's battery of experts includes Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser.

Kenner and Pollan urge consumers to shun the agribusiness model.

Says Kenner: "Go to a farmers market whenever you can. Eat a little less meat. Read labels when you go into a store. Shop the outer rows of the supermarket. Cook at home. Buy less processed food."

And Pollan: "Get involved in your school lunch program. Get junk food out of the whole school. Sign up with a listserv for one of the many groups that's tracking this. Your congressman/woman needs to hear from you."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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