• by Wes SIngleton

Eating Animals, B

Not Rated, 94 minutes

You go to the store to pick up a few things: milk, eggs, butter and some sort of meat (chicken, beef, pork or turkey) for supper. Do you really know how that food made it to your table? And most importantly, do you know the ingredients of those items? The insightful, provocative new documentary “Eating Animals” strives to provide some answers to those questions. 

Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer and narrated by co-producer and Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, “Eating Animals” is an pertinent, eye-opening look at the environmental, economic, and public health consequences of factory farming. While nothing new and covering ground of other, similar food-activist documentaries (“Forks Over Knives”), it’s an insightful, compelling look at how we get our food.

The film does two things: first, it traces the history of food production in the United States, charting how production has gone from local and sustainable to a big corporate monster with the exploitation of animals; and the pollution of our air, soil, and water. Second, it spotlights various farmers and others who have pushed backed against industrial agriculture. 

Directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn (“God Grew Tired of Us”) and narrated by Portman, it occasionally becomes preachy when it says things like calling meat-eating murder or giving statistics on the use of antibiotics, but it still makes a strong case for being a vegan or vegetarianism and even if you don’t opt for those, you may eat less animal products after watching it.

On that note, the best parts are its personal stories: a responsible turkey farmer in Kansas; a couple of whistleblowers against big agriculture who have paid personal prices with their stories, and a farmer who is on a personal mission to clean up North Carolina rivers as a result of pig waste.

What’s the solution here? According to the film, it’s not just eating less meat but also finding more responsible ways to farm and do business. I wish it had more answers  (one fascinating topic it very briefly looks at is creating a meat-like substance from pure plant protein), but “Eating Animals” is a good start to prompting discussion on this issue. 

Also, be warned that it features some scenes of harsh animal treatment (of mostly chickens but pigs, cows and turkeys too), as to make a statement: factory farming is bad for animals and the environment and there are better ways to get our food.

While tree huggers and food activists will likely get the most out of “Eating Animals,” it’s still an eye-opening look at food production in the United States.