By: Timothy Fitzgerald Young
In the past decade films like Food Inc., Supersize Me, and King Corn have blown the lid wide open on an industry known to be as secretive as the military industrial complex. These documentaries have contributed to a shift in consumer orientation towards food and, most importantly, these films have changed culturally entrenched eating habits in America and beyond.
It’s not unusual to see large food corporations, with a vested interest in the status quo, resist such cultural change. It is no surprise, then, that the agricultural, chemical, and biotech industries have responded with a purportedly influential food film of their own.
They did so with the film Farmland, and they make no bones about it. When asked by author and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé—co-founder of an international network for research and education about the root causes of hunger and poverty, Small Planet Institute—why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, DuPont, and Monsanto would join forces to fund such a film, U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance replied, “Because of films like Farm Inc. and their ilk.”
Academy, Emmy, and Grammy Award winning director, James Moll, is not a novice filmmaker. I expected, in fact, to love the film, considering he directed the documentary Running the Sahara, a film that served as an inspiration and model for my work and involvement in the On the Ground projects Run Across Ethiopia, Run Across Palestine, and Run Across Congo.
At first blush Farmland comes across as a wholesome film about 6 very authentic American farmers in their twenties and thirties. The film includes an inspirational woman who started a first generation CSA vegetable farm, and a young organic farmer. With the melodramatic score and beautiful scenery, Farmland fails by presenting these family farms as representative of how food is grown in America.
While family-owned farms make up 88% of total farms in the U.S., they only account for 16% of the food we consume. So, while I suspected the film Farmland might engage in green washing GMO’s, synthetic chemicals, or factory-scale farms, it simply tells a nice story about a few farmers that doesn’t really represent how the majority of our food is grown. It is a red herring, with a message of, “See! These farmers are all good people—Why would they hurt you?”
These farmers probably are good people. They are, however, without a doubt, a dying demographic as more and more of these family farms are consolidated into ever-larger factory farms.
One thing that rings true, however, about the new film Farmland, is that the average American knows very little about farming, ranching, or where our food comes from—and this film does nothing to change that. The complexities of the organic food industry, GMO versus non-GMO, Fair Trade and other food trends of our time leave many people misinformed when making very important decisions about food and health. Farmland remains disappointing and does nothing to advance our collective knowledge about food.