Food, Inc., a documentary film about the modern agricultural industry, has become a hit. It opened to theaters on June 19, and the reviews have largely been positive in newspapers and on the Internet. Millions of Americans, apparently, are paying to watch this documentary that shows the “dark underbelly” of America’s food system. The film is especially popular with big-city movie reviewers, small organic farmers and vegetarians.

Food, Inc. is brought to us by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Eric Schlossar, author of Fast Food Nation, and director Robert Kenner. The movie argues that large-scale agriculture produces inexpensive meat and vegetables but imposes high costs on the environment and American’s health.

Since Food, Inc. opened in theaters last month, hundreds of reviews have been written — nearly all positive for the movie and the principals behind it. And most of the reviewers took the opportunity to encourage Americans to see the film but warned them they would never view their food the same way again.

Of course, the film’s few critics note that Food, Inc. unnecessarily scares viewers by showing the extreme sides of the argument about how we raise food. (Think political provocateur Michael Moore’s films Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko.) 

But I won’t begin to list all of the misperceptions this film creates or how many facts are twisted. And I won’t argue that we can find things in agriculture and food production that need to be improved. What industry can say the same?

What I can’t ignore is the number of movie reviewers that have suddenly become experts on America’s food system simply by watching this movie. I take particular offense to what Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun Times. Ebert is rather famous since he has been reviewing movies since 1967 and appeared on television with Gene Siskel in “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies” for 23 years.

In his review of Food, Inc., Ebert admitted he was trying to “scare the bejesus out of you, which is what Food, Inc. did to me.” He described how the movie portrayed chicken production, which was not flattering, and then wrote: “Cattle have been trained to eat corn instead of grass, their natural food.”

Ebert didn’t exactly describe this disgusting training program that cows are subjected to on those horrific factory farms, but his review certainly attempted to “scare the bejesus” out of anyone who read it. And despite the fact that Ebert was raised in Urbana, Ill., and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, he appears to have little knowledge of agriculture. His degree is in journalism.

But Ebert is not alone. Nearly every review I found of this movie displayed complete acceptance of its contents as fact. Only a handful even tried to balance their reviews by contacting an agriculture or food industry professional. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.