Buenos Aires – The last few days have been spent more or less indoors, for myself fighting off a bit of a change of season cold, and playing nurse to Henry who’s been dealing with some sort of allergic reaction to something he ingested. So, thanks to the magic of the internet and p2p software, I’ve been catching up on various films and shows that aren’t available to rent on DVD here. Of note in the food world, I’ve watched the first two episodes of the new “reality” show, Top Chef, more about which at some point in the near future, or maybe after it’s all over… we shall see; and, more importantly, I just finished watching The Future of Food, a docu-drama that came out a bit over a year ago. I’m definitely coming late to the party, both on watching it and commenting on it, but I think it’s worthy of commentary, and if you haven’t seen it, make the effort to do so.
In its barest, nutshell outline, this film is an hour and a half thrashing of the Monsanto corporation, which, according to the director’s viewpoint, is guilty of shadowy, greedy policies and actions taken in regard to promoting its biotechnology business. Deborah Koons Garcia, the film’s director, manages to also bring in various federal oversight agencies, and in particular both Bush administrations, especially the current one, and the various corporate connections, contributions, and back door deals that appear to have been taking place under our noses. She trashes the world of genetically modified organisms, the United States legal and political systems, and, seemingly, anything that has happened in the world of agriculture over the last half century. At the same time she exalts the disappearing family farm, the small farmer, and the poor of the world in various countries directly or indirectly affected by these dastardly doings, now or in the future.
While not an action packed film, it is extraordinarily well-filmed, and doesn’t give you a moment’s pause to consider what you’re seeing and hearing. Fact after fact, exposé after exposé, point after point is made, rapid fire, interspersing print quotes, interviews, and Reality Bites style film clips to keep the movie flowing. By the end you could find yourself convinced that not only is Monsanto an evil giant, but that science, and very possibly coming down out of the trees, were bad ideas in the first place.
And, that’s the one real flaw in this movie, powerful as it is. The complete lack of balance in the story leaves one with the impression that nothing good has ever come out of the world of biotechnology. That all small farm owners (and not all of those interviewed have farms that are all that small…) are horribly oppressed saints of the food world and the preservation of the earth, not a one of them ever having done anything karmically wrong to a beetle or earth clod, nor, willingly accepted a farm subsidy. That somehow all these biotechnological innovations appeared out of the laboratory and ended up planted on a zillion acres of farmland via some underhanded process while no one was watching. One is also left feeling that it is equally the fault of the American and, to a lesser extent Canadian, public, who have embraced this juggernaut of sinister progess while the populace of the rest of the globe have fought valiantly against it, to no avail. And in that regard, while obviously Monsanto is the focus of her wrath, the lack of any finger pointing at companies throughout the rest of the world involved in the same activities is notable.
In the end, I liked the film. I think anyone watching it will have new things to think about, questions and concerns about their personal food supply, and hopefully that of the world around them. But I think the lack of balance actually undermines the message, making the film come across at many moments as nothing more than a personal vendetta against a single corporation (without Michael Moore style hystrionics), and takes away from the thoughtful and concerned investigation that clearly went into the background work of the production.