Robert Kenner on Food, Inc.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Robert Kenner never considered himself a foodie. He was like most people, mindlessly plucking products from the grocery store shelves. Making his new documentary, "Food Inc.," which shows how our food is produced, changed all that. The director spoke to Jane Black of The Post's Food section about the film, the vicious backlash and the one thing he'll never eat again. Excerpts:

What is the message you are trying to send? Think about where food comes from?

There is such a conscious effort to not have us think about where our food comes from. I'm not shocked that agribusinesses denied me access to their plants. But they go to great lengths to continue to deliver this image that food is like it's always been, when in reality it's been fundamentally transformed.

Tomatoes look similar but they have no nutritional value and they don't taste like anything. . . . The connection to tobacco is very important. Like tobacco we're up against really powerful corporations that are really connected to government and are putting out a product that's not good for you.

What did you find most shocking?

We filmed a hearing in Sacramento about whether we should label cloned meat. Not whether we should have it. Whether we should label it. I didn't even know there was cloned meat. The woman representing the industry said, "We don't think it's in the consumer's interest [to label the meat] because it would be too confusing." This is really a film about our rights. It's just terrifying. You think in America that we should have the right to buy things on the best information. And I did not have any of that information.

Are you a foodie?

I wasn't a foodie. I'm a filmmaker. I'd read ["Fast Food Nation"]. I'd seen "Supersize Me." I ate a lot of industrial food without thinking about it much. I'm still not a perfect eater, but I'm much better.

There's already been a lot of corporate pushback. The agricultural company Monsanto has launched a Web site to counter the film.

We went to such an effort to try to get them to appear. They wanted to know who was in the film. We asked permission from our characters. We told them what we were talking about. We gave them Stonyfield [Farm]'s name so they could call. We were in discussions for months and we were asking them to appear and we were running out of time. And we wrote a letter saying, "We will take your lack of a response to be a 'no' because we can't fit you in anymore." They then go on the air and say they never said no. It's a very misleading statement.

Monsanto argues that industrial food is necessary. Population is expected to double and without technology millions will starve.

The Union of Concerned Scientists dispute their yield results. A number of farmers I spoke to felt Monsanto yields weren't necessarily greater. I can't answer whether they are or they aren't. I'm not an expert. But the Union of Concerned Scientists is a legitimate operation.

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