From Fries to Fennel, How Food, Inc. Is Changing America

10/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Food, Inc., the widely celebrated documentary that continues to expand nationwide as quickly as GMO seeds infect organic crops, is topping the box office in documentary sales. It is more than just a great documentary, though. It is helping to reshape our agricultural and eating landscape nationwide. The thoughtful analysis of our complex industrial food system is introduced to viewers in simple, bite-sized portions that make it simple for viewers to understand the issues. My analysis of the residual effects of Food, Inc. are not scientific and merely based on my informal discussions with people, combined with scouring Twitter and blogs for anecdotes. But there is plenty of evidence that people are leaving theaters and walking out with a determination to make significant changes.

#foodinc has become synonymous on Twitter with posts about sustainable agriculture and they are rampant. Following this phrase on the site brings up numerous postings from enthusiastic fans about new openings of the film and plenty of tweets about sustainable agriculture issues that have nothing to do directly with the film but everything to do with the subject matter. #foodinc now means sustainable, healthy agriculture to tweeters. The media coverage for the film stretches from one end of the spectrum to the other with accolades and condemnations from advocates and foes of industrial agriculture. It has become a default-topic in food discussions (see the recent Time cover story). Huffington Post devoted a special section with interviews of some of its food bloggers about the film.

At the more local level, I've heard lots of stories (and received inquires) from people about how to join a Community Supported Agriculture program, where to find a local farmers market and how to buy grass-fed beef. Upon leaving the theater, Marje Learned, a teacher in the San Mateo, CA, was immediately inspired to act within her own community. She is now working to get hormone-free dairy and milk in her school cafeteria and has committed to only eating grass-fed beef. Bonnie Abaunza, who happens to be my boss, was a lifelong carnivore. When we eat together, she would enjoy a plate of beef while I munched on tempeh and greens as we ridiculed each other's meal preferences. However, Bonnie has defied all odds and shocked even herself by announcing that she will no longer eat beef (so, if you ever happen to meet her, you can make sure she's holding to her public promise). She's not sitting down to a plate of tofu and kale yet, but she's already made a huge step by giving up red meat. Joe Newman, via Twitter, told me that the film " reinforced my decision to stop supporting factory farms with my $$$ ...going veggie and locally grown organic meat." Foodblogga on Twitter told me that they only buy grass-fed beef now.

Katie Wohl of Boston said the film inspired her to switch to free-range meat only. If that's not available, then she's only eating vegetarian. She said that many of her friends have been inspired to start purchasing produce at local farmers markets. Benjamin Packard is forsaking TV dinners and opting for healthier, vegetarian options. Laurie Luh now only buys her eggs at the farmers market. No more $0.99 eggs for her. My dad, who happens to be a doctor, is giving out film postcards to patients and telling them they must see the film. And since my parents live in an apartment, he wasn't able to fulfill his post-film ambition of planting a garden, but he and my mom frequent their neighborhood farmers market a lot more regularly now. My mom said it's time for a food revolution!

Blogger Jill Richardson shared the story of a friend who saw the film and was "passionate, outraged and fired-up" afterwards. She was "finishing the food in her fridge and then changing how she eats entirely." Chris Elam wrote me, "have a 3-year old son, and the little-boy segment was so disturbing and affecting, that my wife and I have agreed he should only eat organic meat going forward."

A website called Rocket Moms has a blog post titled "Take Control Over Your Food" which details a mom's reaction to seeing Food, Inc. Her introduction summed up her reaction: "A girls night out for a movie -- Food, Inc. and dinner changed my outlook on food forever!"

People are also inspired to take action at the policy level. The film's Social Action campaign is devoted to removing soda and junk food from all federally funded nutrition programs. Makes sense, right? Well, about 100,000 other people also agree and are signing our petition to cut the crap out of schools.

Food, Inc. hasn't transformed us in a nation of vegetarian locavores. But, it has spurred discussions at cafes, coffee shops, sushi bars, bistros, bakeries, cafeterias, diners, and, of course, kitchen tables, across the country. The film's greatest legacy is that it encouraging us, as a nation, to examine our decisions. As a result, change is happening at the national, community and personal levels. Be part of this great national discussion by sharing your story here.

Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on