I wanted to like “Food and Country” more than I did. Teaming with former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl, filmmaker Laura Gabbert works to tell a broad history of the American food industry that ambitiously tries to cover too much ground. The overstuffed documentary would benefit from a more razor-sharp focus, but it still gives an interesting and timely look at a wide range of important issues facing our ever-changing food system.
Comprised of interviews with knowledgeable subjects, Reichl chats with restaurateurs, farmers, ranchers, and other industry leaders to explore the history of the food industry. Going back to the 1950s and a time where consumers didn’t care about what was in their food or where it came from, the documentary traces the origin of our obsession with fast food. It was a time where convenience was valued over everything else, including quality and healthfulness. This likely was the start of many food supply related problems Americans face today, from being conditioned not to want to pay a lot for what we consume to the rampant obesity epidemic and strain on the country’s health care system.
The film often feels preachy in this regard, with a condescending tone about our failure to demand an earlier focus on healthy and natural food versus cheap, processed junk food. It goes on to shed light on the realities of food deserts, the struggles that independent restaurants face, and the always-infuriating statistics that show farm and food service workers are among the lowest paid professions in the U.S. Other damaging food policies are explored, with several subjects warning that if we continue down this road, the food industry could be placed in the control of even more limited hands, which would be disastrous.
The documentary is very one-sided and has a clear agenda, which is probably why xxx felt the need to include so much in her film. There are segments about government regulations, Covid, ranchers and the meat industry, restaurant owners, legislative hearings, and more. The most compelling bit is about those professionals who are independent of the industrialized model and are free to take the most risks, but the rewards are so few that they are sometimes stuck with the status quo.
“Food and Country” is interesting enough, especially if you care about food and farming. It is dry and educational to a fault, however, especially because the heavy use of Zoom footage gives it a disconnected feel overall.
By: Louisa Moore