18 March 2013

I watched King Corn last night. The conceit of this documentary is that two college buddies from Boston set out to grow an acre of corn in a small Iowa town where they both have common ancestors. The film is a fantastically smart, concise, and nuanced look at the way food is produced in America today.

I went into the film expecting to hate it. King Corn is the grandfather of the food system consciousness raising documentary genre. The film came out in the year between 2006’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and 2007’s Food, Inc. Pollan has his finger in all of these projects, though he plays only a bit part in King Corn. Pollan and his ilk trade in scapegoating various nefarious actors (agribusiness!) and romanticizing small scale organic farmers. At their worst, Pollan projects offer feel good solutions (go to the farmers market! Grow your own vegetables!) to the incredibly complex and challenging question of how to feed the world sustainably.

Pollan and Food, Inc. offer their readers and viewers an enticing formula. They explain to you how the American agricultural system has gone to shit because industrialization, and we are killing ourselves and the environment. But wait! There is an easy solution. You can support small scale organic farmers. Sure you will have to pay a bit more for your food, but it’s a small price to pay for health and sustainability.

King Corn came as a breath of fresh air. The filmmakers approach the topic in the spirit of genuine investigation. They criticize the mistakes of the past, but realize that these mistakes were not only made by evil corporations.

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