“And that was when I realized, we weren’t just talking about food anymore. We were talking about our rights as human beings being taken away from us.”- Robert Kenner
So as I said last time, I got to hear Robert Kenner speak at my school Thursday night.
Apologies for this post being so delayed. Life is crazy. And thanks for alllll those questions, I couldn’t ask them all, there were just too many! Just kidding. 🙂 Obviously. But I had some of my own of course, and he was really great about staying after the presentation to talk with people one on one. Before Robert began speaking, he asked everyone if they had seen the film yet. I am pretty sure everyone raised their hand. There were probably 150-200 people there…though I am bad at guesstimating so don’t quote me on that. I was so pumped to see that so many people had seen it, although I guess it makes sense that the people who have seen it would be the most likely ones to want to go hear the director speak. While Robert was speaking, he referenced certain parts in the film and played those scenes for us on the screen behind him. He started off by showing the first opening piece of the film (below), which is hands down my favorite opening credits scene ever. I still get chillbumps when I watch it. Don’t make fun.
Kenner told us he isn’t a food advocate and never had really paid much attention to the food that he ate or where it came from before the film was made. In fact, he said he is stil
l not a vegetarian or anything (calling himself a flexitarian), but he does eat less fast food–and eats Chipotle. He basically just thought it would be interesting to make a film about the food industry, but had no idea what he would uncover or how controversial, groundbreaking and popular it would become. He said he wanted to make a film for people like him, that hadn’t though about their food. He focused less on appealing to the people who were already food and food safety advocates, as they already know a lot about what is going on. He tried to create a witty, creative, visually appealing, but still informative film that would shock you and maybe make you uncomfortable, but that would also not be so uncomfortable or biased that people wouldn’t want to see it. He isn’t a Michael Moore–he doesn’t pick and choose who to talk to and then attack them. He called over 90 food companies, and hardly any, besides Wal-Mart and Stonyfield, would even talk to him.
He told us a lot of interesting tidbits about the film that I had never known.
- Wal-Mart asked if they could edit the footage of them that went into the film. HAH. (PS- According to his Web site, Kenner once made a Wal-Mart commercial, maybe that’s why they wanted to be in the film, they though it might put them in a positive light?)
- The meat that killed the little boy of the mother in this film had sat on the shelf for 12 days after being recalled. They knew it was dangerous, but the FDA won’t send people out to take the meat off the shelves. That makes me sick to my stomach.
- Kenner has been attacked by PETA for not promoting a strictly vegetarian lifestyle in the film. PETA needs to re-focus their efforts on a fight worth having. What a bunch of loonies.
- In the scene where the classroom of students in the poor rural community out west is interviewed, the students were all asked if they or an immediate family member had diabetes, and all raised their hand. When the kids asked Kenner if he had, he said no, and they were shocked. Those kids had never met a person who didn’t at least have one family member with diabetes.
Now, in full disclosure of my personal feelings, while Kenner has done an extraordinary service for resolving the food crisis, this is because of what he knows about filmmaking, not about the problem. (OK. I just gotta say it. Kenner was drinking from a Dasani bottle after he spoke. I know no one is perfect, but that did hurt my soul just a bit.) You could tell by the manner in which he was speaking that what he knows is directly a result of having made this film. When he spoke about the food industry he sounded cautious, a tiny bit uneasy, perhaps a bit rehearsed. When he spoke about the film, he spoke right from his heart. Food isn’t his passion, filmmaking is—which is fine. Now, if you want to hear someone talk about food/farming/the food crisis straight from their heart, you should hear Joel Salatin speak.
Speaking of Joel Salatin. Kenner brought Salatin up at one point, so when I spoke to him after the presentation, I asked him what he thought about his views on the government’s role in all of this.Basically I asked a long-winded question that came out sort of like this, but probably less eloquent:
“There is this tension between holding corporations accountable for poor, unsustainable, environmentally destructive food production, and then the responsibility of the government to regulate the safety of that shoddily produced food. We have one school of thought (Joel Salatin’s) saying that the government needs to back off on their regulations and let small farmers do what they do best, but on the other hand you have people dying from foodborne illnesses, and the government is being blamed for not having enough regulation and control over our food. How do we reconcile these conflicting problems so that food is safe but also so small farmers are able to say in business and be able to provide it?” (OK so I really rephrased this, but that’s about what I asked.)
His answer was brief. And I think it’s not an easy question to answer, and he’s not really the man to answer it. But he stuck to his guns about his previous statements that our problems always trace back to the corporate control. He said, “Yes, there are areas that the government is failing, however, ultimately, the blame here falls on the corporations and the centralized control of our food system.” Until that changes, there will continue to be problems with food safety AND the government-small farmer tug-of-war. If not for huge agribusiness corporations, this problem just wouldn’t exist.
He also told me about how he and Salatin went on the Martha Stewart show together recently. I hadn’t seen this appearance, so I checked it out. Salatin actually said there that the government’s responsibility is to protect us, to protect our food and our safety, and its our duty to elect officials who will best do this.
In closing, and in my humble opinion, people like Michael Pollan, Salatin, and other people who were interviewed in this film, made it what it is, and they really deserve most of the credit. However, Kenner deserves the credit for making a film that moved people, and that is just as much a part of this battle. Pollan’s expertise coupled with Kenner’s extraordinary filmmaking skills, allowed for a truly great film to be produced, and for that I have a great deal of respect for the man.
I hope we look back at this point in history as the turning point. One day, I’ll say to my kids or grandkids, “Yeah, we used to shop at huge grocery stores, we had no idea where our food came from, it could’ve come from another country! A lot of it was processed in factories, even animals lived in factories. Then they made this one movie, and it helped open people’s eyes.” And my kids will say, “Food used to come from factories? Weird!”