Book Reviews

Food, Inc. (1): WWDS (What Would Dickens Say?)

By March 18, 2011No Comments

Last week, I finally saw the documentary Food, Inc.  It was disturbing, and I plan to blog more extensively about it sometime soon.

The film basically explores how the farm has been replaced with the factory.  It is an expose of the way that the giants of agribusiness have begun to produce food in a way that is inhumane to the livestock, destructive to the environment, oppressive to the workers and damaging to the health of the consumers.

One of the things I really love is how good literature continues to illuminate life.

Last year I read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times (not one of his better known novels). The story is an indictment of the Worship of Efficiency and Utilitarianism brought on during the industrial revolution.

  • Efficiency = getting the maximum results with minimum waste
  • Utilitarianism = a system of ethics that seeks to determine what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Both of these systems of thought have a tendency to be dehumanizing, to turn people into numbers or machines, and to write off imagination and leisure as distractions, a waste of human resources.

The first person to speak in the story is a man named Gradgrind, and his goal is to raise his children steeped in nothing but pure Fact and Efficiency. He tells his children’s teacher (hilariously named M’choakumchild) in the first line of the book:

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will be of any service to them.”

The great enemy of Gradgrind’s worldview is Fancy, or Imagination. He teaches his children that they must “never wonder” and forbids them to read poetry. The story takes place in a coal-mining town named Coketown. All the buildings look the same; everything is painted alike. (Imagine a world with only engineers and no architects). The town is depicted as the embodiment of Fact:

“Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial aspect. The school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact… and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchasable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end. Amen.”

My conclusion upon watching Food, Inc.?  The food industry has constructed Gradgrind’s world.

And it is purely mechanical: a machine, without feeling, restraint, or humanity.

Question: Have you seen Food, Inc.?  What do you think?

No Comments

  • Josh says:

    Saw Food Inc almost immediately after reading this post (it was recommended by a friend who became a pescatarian after watching it). I never wanna eat anything that remotely looks like ground beef or chicken again.
    This might be the skeptic in me talking, but how much in the documentary did you think was actually true?

    • Well, all documentaries are obviously going to come from some kind of angle. But I don’t have reasons to doubt the conclusions of the movie. First, the movie makers don’t have a huge vested interest in exposing the food industry. What I mean by that is they are not trying to get rich off the findings of the film. Second, the film comes from a multi-dimensional approach, rather than relying on one specific field or set of experts. Third, there hasn’t been a backlash against the findings of the film (unlike An Inconvenient Truth or something like that). Plus, what it exposes is the logical outworking of a modernist worldview, so it doesn’t surprise me. Is there something in particular you were skeptical about?

  • Josh says:

    I just kinda cant get my mind around how major corporations would manufacture food, knowing that it may contain excrement from the animals, thus carrying harmful bacteria and diseases, all because they want to keep their efficient methods of manufacturing in order to make a big fat profit.
    Im not saying that people arent this evil, but their companies make FOOD. Thats what they’re there for. Its Kinda devastating; You think they would care about people dying.

    • I think that they are able to kill a lot of the directly life threatening germs through ammonia baths, etc. So because there aren’t a lot of people whose deaths can be directly tied to poop in the meat, they feel like some of the longer term effects of having that bacteria in the meat aren’t their problem. But I think the silence here is deafening. Why aren’t they willing to open up the slaughterhouses and show what is really going on?

  • Josh says:

    Thats a really good point, for sure. And they made that very well in the documentary. I think if anything it stimulated shocking exposure for the food manufacturers, so that they cant keep silent any longer, which is somewhat relieving. But who knows if they’ll do anything about it.

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