Amid Food Inc.’s first weekend in nationwide release, the hard-hitting food-system exposé got a boost from NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof. (I’ll be reviewing the film later this week.) Declared the pundit in his widely read Sunday column:
A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward.
Kristof’s words certainly didn’t hurt box office. The film reeled in $280,000 in weekend receipts. That’s a few buckets of popcorn compared to the mountains of cash that accrued to dumb-dumb comedies like the Hangover and The Proposal ($34 million and $26 million, respectively); but it’s still an encouraging number.
Consider that while Food Inc’s take made it the 18th highest-grossing film of the weekend, it’s only playing at 51 theaters nationwide–compared to 3,000+ for big-budget Hollywood flicks. It grossed $5,550 per theater–enough to land solidly in the top ten nationwide in that category. With that level of dough, more theaters might be convinced to pick it up. It’s the kind of film that folks drag friends and family to see. And it could be the vehicle for getting whole new waves of people to question the foundations of our food system. (Though it might not help move much high-fructose corn syrup-laden soda or fake-butter popcorn.)
Speaking of questioning the food system, it’s good to watch Kristof develop a critical perspective on that topic. This past spring, he wrote two columns (here and here) on the growing evidence that links industrial pork production to MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph infection that kills 20,000 Americans every year. And last year, he weighed in on the drama over Obama’s choice for USDA chief, calling for a“secretary of food” who would stand up to agribusiness.
Domestic issues aren’t normally Kristof’s area; he usually focuses his columns on the struggles of developing nations. In those regions, his ideas on food are much more conventional. Here he is, for example, praising the top-down, tech-centered work of the Gates Foundation in the global south; and here he is declaring that “Americans typically get micronutrients from fortified foods, and the same strategy is possible in Africa.”
Can’t we do better than imposing our own deeply flawed food system–wherein food is so stripped of nutrients that it needs to be fortified–on the global south? Speaking of his own childhood cravings for industrial food, Kristof writes in his latest column:
[I]t has become clear that the same factors that impelled me toward factory-produced meat and vegetables–cheap, predictable food–also resulted in a profoundly unhealthy American diet.
I hope Kristof brings that same critical edge to discussions of development policy in nations to the south of us.