"Food Inc." Director Talks Sustainability in Chicago

Robert Kenner says food companies that avoided him are now more engaged in conversation

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Documentary filmmaker talks about food deserts, the high-cost of cheap food and the food movement he's since since the debut of Food, Inc." (Published Thursday, Dec 9, 2010)

    A 2008 documentary about large-scale food production in America has had a life well beyond its debut.

    "Food, Inc." is one of several documentaries that Robert Kenner has direct in his long career, but when it became one of the top three DVD rentals of 2009 and nominated for an Academy Award, he was astonished.

    "I wish I could say it's due to the film, but I think it is due to the incredible interest and incredible food movement that has really expanded," he said last month while in Chicago for the "State of the Plate" conference.

    Kenner's film was screened and then discussed during the one-day meeting that shares the best practices and strategies for creating a sustainable food supply.

    Discussions about food are exceeding important in urban environments like Chicago, Kenner said.

    "It's just shocking what's happening in our country.  There are large areas, both cities and rural areas, that don’t have access to good food. The city of Detroit, there is not one supermarket in the city of Detroit and large areas where we filmed in Los Angeles didn’t have access to fresh produce," explained.

    It’s not just about the few companies that own it all, said Kenner, it's about our choices.

    "I think the real crime now is that we have a lot of cheap food that is deficient in nutrition and it's making us sick, and we love our cheap, inexpensive food, but unfortunately it's coming to us at too high a cost. Corn and soy are in 90 percent of the items in the supermarket, and ultimately we are subsidizing them so lots of the foods with corn and soy are being made at less than the cost of production."

    In the film, Kenner attempts to get reaction from some of the companies that he says own our food industry. At the time, they didn’t want to be involved. That appears to have changed.

    "At first they were really mad.  They were following me onto talk shows or radio shows and saying things. What’s been very interesting is that I keep getting invited to speak at their events, one after another. I’ve developed close contacts with big industrial players.  It's really fascinating to develop the dialogue I had hoped to have when I made the movie," he said.

    Kenner said he doesn't want to be a "franchise filmmaker," but did say he's got another project debuting soon.

    "I don’t want to keep making the same film. I have another coming out on HBO on Valentine's Day about social networking and people meeting online," he said.

    Still, Kenner said he's involved in a series of commercials regarding sustainability and "ultimately how our food is not sustainable."