In his new film, Food, Inc., producer/director Robert Kenner teams up with Eric Schlosser (co-producer) to examine the impact of the industrialized food system on consumer health, American farmers, workers’ safety, and the environment. Gourmet web editor Christy Harrison spoke with Kenner about the reaction his film has been getting at nationwide screenings—and about how “veggie libel laws” have silenced critics of the food industry, why travel is horrible, and who controls America’s agriculture schools.
Christy Harrison: I saw your film at the Brooklyn Based screening last week; at the Q&A afterwards, you discussed a story line about strawberry farming that didn’t end up in the film. I’m interested to hear more about that.
Robert Kenner: That was one of about 300 stories we spent a lot of time on. We were pursuing people who design hazmat suits [for strawberry growers]. These growers have to be covered head to foot, and it looks like they’re walking on the moon. There was another story about someone who designs tomatoes that will last six months longer than the tomatoes we have now; they’re also a little more square so they can be packed better. We’ve forgotten taste—we now are so much more used to things just being there all season long, whether they have any taste or not.
And I almost filmed something about flavor factories. A woman [who worked at one such factory] was telling me that when they design flavors today, kids don’t even want them to taste like fruit anymore. They’re getting away from imitating real flavors and just creating absolutely artificial flavors. We don’t even want imitation-real anymore.
I also found somebody who does MRI scans on children—they show them commercials and study their brain patterns so that [the advertisers] can really refine their approach to selling. They understand that people develop their eating habits at a very young age, and they’re basically looking to hook them.
CH: So how do you get people unhooked, especially if the industry starts targeting kids even more precisely?
RK: It’s a hard drug to come off of. Cigarettes were hard to kick; food is maybe even harder. Sixty-four percent of Americans are either overweight or obese—I feel like I’m becoming one of them since I’ve been traveling. Travel, for me, is horrible food-wise.
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