Food, Inc. for the Classroom
December 23rd 2010
I’m always looking for educational resources to pass on to teachers and students preparing for this year’s World Affairs Challenge theme, Food: Feeding the Planet Sustainably in the 21st Century. I recently checked out the documentary Food, Inc.in which filmmaker Robert Kenner examines our country's food industry and exposes it as a deeply flawed system. The documentary focuses on the fact that corporations "often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment."
The documentary does an excellent job of giving an introduction to all of the issues surrounding food production, distribution, and consumption in the United States. There are perspectives presented by individuals in very different positions in the food industry- including a conservative food safety advocate, a passionate organic farmer who is determined to keep his operation small, and another organic farmer that believes that the best way to change the system is through the large corporations that currently control it. The film also looks at the role of race and class in the food industry, particularly in food production and processing. Kenner highlights an often forgotten piece of our broken food system-- the extreme mistreatment of workers in food production and processing who are generally people of color and recent immigrants to the United States.
All in all, Food Inc. does a good job of presenting a plethora of issues surrounding food in the United States. While a large amount of issues are presented, there isn't enough time to fully delve into each one. I found it somewhat overwhelming to be presented with so many issues in succession. The movie is also a bit sensationalist-- while all of the issues presented are real, some are dealt with a good amount of shock value to get the point across. I also wish that positive efforts in food communities and movements surrounding food justice were given more time as well.
Despite its flaws, I recommend using Food, Inc. as an academic resource. It does a good job of introducing an audience to a variety of themes surrounding food. It’s a good place to start—but should be exactly that, a starting point. I think that Food, Inc. can be used to spark students' interest in different issues surrounding food, and inspire students to conduct their own research and investigations. Food, Inc. is also particularly accessible as an educational resource with the accompanying discussion guide created by the Center for Ecoliteracy. You can download the guide in English or Spanish for free on the Center for Ecoliteracy's website.
I think that taking your students to the supermarket after watching this documentary can be an interesting (and free!) field trip to further engage students with food issues. Students can work in groups to identify how many products in an aisle contain corn or soy products, or research how many miles different foods traveled to arrive at the store. I'd love also to hear from educators who have used Food, Inc. in their own classrooms. How did your students react to the documentary? Have you come up with any extra activities or projects involving this film that you would like to share? Please post your comments below!