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Food films spotlight shady practices

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

food

Special to The Prospector

At the start of the year, McDonald’s began its ad campaign, “What We’re Made Of,” in which they featured farm suppliers, seemingly regular folk going about their work in the farm as they talk about the dedication to their craft.

The ads came after the company discarded supplier Sparboe Farms for alleged inhumane practices and poor sanitary conditions last November.

However, Ashley Yingling, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s denied the new ad campaign is a damage-control strategy. Instead, she said the purpose lies in “dispelling some of those myths...of where our food comes from.”

The “myths” Yingling is referring to are those that have been exposed by television shows like Jaime Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Similarly, documentaries within the last decade have taken to unraveling food industry mysteries to expose where our food comes from and why it is that our eating habits are unhealthy.

Here is a brief review of some of them:

Super Size Me (2004)

One of the most accessible and popular food documentaries to come along in a while, Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” is a comical, but poignant look into the reality of eating fast food. Spurlock documents his month-long journey and deterioration while eating nothing but McDonald’s food. The impact of the documentary is disputable. At the advent of its premiere, McDonalds launched its “Eat Smart, Be Active” initiative and denied the initiative had any connection with the film.

Earthlings (2005)

Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, the documentary relates the implications of animal abuse and cruelty when animals are used as pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. Director Shaun Monson uses hidden cameras to capture graphic scenes at puppy mills, slaughterhouses and entertainment industries. It is a shocking documentary that uses disturbing elements to its advantage, masking its heavy-handed narration and championing its wholehearted intent for the safety of animals.

Food, Inc. (2008)

In an attempt to trace back the origin of food, director Robert Kenner and two of the greater champions of ethical eating, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser document the gruesome reality of the American food industry. The Academy Award-nominated documentary uncovers that a few corporations, which are in turn owned and supported by affluent government officials, own the nation’s food supply. This makes it difficult to break the system where “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper” is the motto due to the rise in demand by the public.

“Food, Inc.” is political and ghastly, and at times, it’s more of an investigative report than a guide to eating healthy. Still, it remains a fascinating look behind the scenes of the food industry and just might turn audiences vegetarian.

Food Matters (2008)

Directors James Colquhoun and Carlo Ledesma explore contemporary medical claims that encourage vitamin intake while showcasing research that indicates the positive effects of a nutritional diet. It makes use of statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Center stating that as of 2008, vitamins in the course of 23 years have caused 10 alleged deaths. According to the Journal of the American Association, approximately 106,000 Americans died during the course of one year from properly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, while following proper intake procedures.

Forks over Knives (2011)

Lee Fulkerson’s documentary makes the claim that eating plant-based foods is the remedy to most illnesses. The documentary claims, through the interviews of doctors and nutritionists, that animal-based products and the western diet in particular, is the root of most illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. “Food Matters” stands out from most health and food documentaries by offering a clear solution to the problem: eat more plant-based foods. However it sometimes looses credibility in the blatant attacks on modern medicinal practices without offering the opposing view.

Whether it’s damage control or not, McDonald’s, along with other fast-food restaurants, have taken a defensive approach by highlighting the “realness” or the “freshness” of their ingredients. Especially after health and food documentaries in the past 10 years blame the rise of the fast-food industry for the inhumane treatment of livestock in farms and the rising obesity rates in the U.S.

“Food, Inc.,” “Food Matters” and “Forks over Knives” are available through Netflix instant play. “Super Size Me” is available through Hulu and “Earthlings” through earthlings.com.

Andres Rodriguez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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