THE BLOG
12/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Food Fight Documents The Agri-Culture Wars

I'm just too immersed in the foodie activist world to be able to gauge how effective a film like Food Fight is at explaining the bizarre state of the American diet. This movie strives mightily to explain how we arrived at this sorry state in which our government's policies (i.e. your tax payer dollars) have managed to foster a system of agriculture that enables big food companies to make a killing while quite literally killing us with their disease-inducing "food" products.

I put "food" in quotes because food is defined as a "source of nutrients" or "solid nourishment," and much of the processed crap that fills the supermarket shelves not only doesn't meet this definition, it's so bad for you that it's practically poison.

That's why real food fanatics generally heed the advice of Michael Pollan, the dean of clean food and one of Food Fight's stars, to steer clear of conventional supermarkets. We prowl our farmers' markets instead, scooping up vegetables so fresh that the soil still clings to their roots. We buy our other basics at the local health food store or Whole Foods, or maybe Trader Joe's.

But, once in a while, we run out of toilet paper or cat food or some other staple and, in a pinch, we dash to the supermarket across the street. Whereupon we are confronted, aisle after aisle, with the reality of what the average American eats--and, quite frankly, it freaks us out.

That's not to say that you can't find healthy food in the supermarket. It's there, as Food Fight notes, on the periphery in the produce department, or in the "ethnic" aisle with the soba noodles and dried beans. But most of the stuff that's sold in supermarkets is of negligible nutritional value and loaded with salt, fat, sweeteners and all kinds of additives to make it taste better. For too many Americans, wholesome foods are hard to find, and even harder to pay for.

Food Fight rounds up all the usual suspects to decry this rotten food system; along with Pollan, there's Alice Waters, Dan Barber, Wolfgang Puck, Marion Nestle, etc. There are a few fresh faces, too--most notably Tom Philpott of Grist and Growing Power's Will and Erika Allen, the true foot soldiers in the battle to make real food available to all of us, regardless of income or region.

There's a lot of talk about how locally grown foods simply taste better, and are better for you. All well and good. But as the Ethicurean's Bonnie Powell noted in her excellent, even handed review, the film lingers a little too long at the altar of Alice Waters. Treehugger's Kelly Rossiter had a similar take, giving the film high marks overall but lamenting Food Fight's excessive "focus on the charismatic chefs and marveling at the array of beautiful vegetables at the farmers' market."

I would have liked to see a greater emphasis on the disastrous environmental consequences and inhumanity of factory farming, or even a passing reference to the link between meat consumption and climate change. I was troubled, too, that the film suggests that hunger is a thing of the past in our country. As Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, recently noted at a World Hunger Year forum in NYC, "there will be 40 million people going hungry in the richest country on earth by the end of the year". And don't forget the folks who, thanks to our toxic food chain, manage to be both obese and malnourished at the same time. I can't think of a more damning indictment of our agricultural policies.

To be fair, Food Fight gets a lot of things right; I was especially gratified that it hammers home the fact that Agribiz is wedded--or should I say welded--to the military industrial complex. And it's great to see my personal heroes like Tom Philpott and Will Allen getting their due--Allen's just received a much-deserved MacArthur genius grant, by the way, for the extraordinary work his foundation, Growing Power, has done to promote urban agriculture as a viable way to nourish our inner city communities.

So although I share my fellow foodie bloggers' reservations about this film, I think you should see it for yourself--and if you live in Los Angeles, you'll have your chance soon: Food Fight premieres this Saturday, November 8th, at a free 3:15 pm screening at the AFI (American Film Institute) festival in Los Angeles, at Mann's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.