We Feed The World (Austria, director Erwin Wagenhofer): I would call this film a Mondovino for food. By which I mean it is an examination of how globalization and the growth of the power of corporations has affected the production of food. The director dispassionately takes us to farms in Romania and Brazil, a fishing boat in Brittany, a greenhouse in southern Spain, and a chicken processing plant in Austria.
In all these places, we see traditional practices being abandoned in favour of giant factory operations. In each place, someone on camera asserts that flavour is not as important as price or appearance. So we see hothouse tomatoes being driven 2500 kilometres to be sold, we see rainforest cleared to grow soybeans, even though the soil is unsuitable, and we see the entire eight-week life cycle of thousands of chickens, raised to supply the incessant demands of the world for cheap food. Watching factory-farmed chickens being “processed” might be enough to turn some people into vegetarians. Except for the fact that our vegetables are really no better.
There is some interesting information about GM (genetically modified) crops which are resistant to herbicides like Monsanto‘s Roundup and the growing use of hybrid seed. Unlike regular seed, which farmers used to save from year to year, hybrid seed cannot be used to raise a second crop, forcing farmers to keep buying seed from large seed firms like Pioneer. This raises all kinds of issues, and I really think the film could have spent more time here.
The film ends with an interview with the CEO of Nestlé, the largest food manufacturer in the world, who muses on “attaching a value” to water, and calls the position of the NGOs, that access to clean water is a human right, “extreme”. After bragging how many jobs his corporation is creating, and how many families it is supporting, he glances at an informational video of one of Nestlé’s Japanese factories, and marvels how it is so roboticized. “Hardly any people,” he crows.
The only significant weakness to this documentary was its unrelenting gloom. I would have liked to have been given some ammunition or to have seen some success stories, or at least some rebellion. But there wasn’t any. Since I have an interest in this area, I can point you to the Slow Food organization, which is trying to encourage more consumption of local products and the preservation of disappearing foodstuffs. But I really wish the director had done it instead.