Feeling peckish and thinking of grabbing something nutritious? Perhaps a bowl of greens. But hold on – leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce and spinach are often tainted with germs that cause illness (remember the 2006 incident with baby spinach causing an E. coli scare?). Alright, then, how about a chicken sandwich? Slow down there: selling raw chicken that may contain salmonella is still a common practice. Peanut butter sandwich, you say? Unfortunately, peanuts have had their share of salmonella outbreaks as well.
This is the kind of eye-opening information you’re exposed to when watching “Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food,” a startling new documentary on Netflix that could make you consider giving up food altogether. It’s a meticulously crafted, level-headed film that raises serious concerns – a stark wake-up call to be vigilant about our food choices if we wish to lead long, healthy lives. Directed by Stephanie Soechtig, known for her work on the obesity crisis in “Fed Up,” and inspired by the investigative book from Jeff Benedict, “Poisoned” opts for solid journalism and thoughtful analysis rather than just tugging at your heartstrings, though it certainly has its moments that will stir up frustration. The documentary sharply highlights often overlooked issues, revealing uncomfortable truths about the risks in our food and the oversight failures of those in charge of ensuring safety. It narrates the tale of a flawed system that frequently prioritizes profit margins over the well-being and protection of the public.
“Poisoned” joins a lineage of eye-opening works, tracing back to Upton Sinclair’s groundbreaking 1906 investigation “The Jungle,” which unveiled the grim realities of the meatpacking industry, and Eric Schlosser’s 2001 deep dive “Fast Food Nation,” later turned into a film by Richard Linklater. The connection to fast food is significant: the documentary begins with the tragic E. coli outbreak from the early ’90s that claimed the lives of four children due to tainted burgers from Jack in the Box, leading to critical improvements in fast food safety standards. However, “Poisoned” argues that much of the broader food industry still desperately needs to catch up.
The documentary boldly confronts those in charge, especially when director Stephanie Soechtig interviews industry bigwigs and regulatory leaders who perform verbal gymnastics to avoid tough questions and undeniable facts. Bill Marler, an attorney dedicated to challenging the food industry, points out that for some producers, food is seen merely as a product to sell, not sustenance. Bill Marler emerges as the film’s central figure, a determined advocate who started his crusade by representing a victim of the Jack in the Box tragedy.
A nod is also given to Kenneth Kendrick, a former manager at the Peanut Corporation of America, who courageously exposed his employer, Stewart Parnell, for falsifying safety records and distributing tainted products. In 2014, Parnell faced justice, receiving a 28-year sentence for various charges, including conspiracy and fraud, highlighting the severe consequences of compromising food safety.
At the core of “Poisoned” lies a classic battle: the well-being and safety of the public versus the relentless pursuit of profit by corporations. Food industry lobbyists are known to generously fund politicians who could enact regulatory reforms. In certain cases, these same industries back scientists whose research influences their eventual political roles, easing regulations for their benefactors. It’s a vicious cycle that continues despite repeated claims that the U.S. boasts the safest food supply globally (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
Why do vegetable growers set up near livestock farms? Simply put, relocating would be costly. Yet, this proximity leads to animal waste contaminating the water that irrigates crops. And the cycle persists.
Netflix has its fair share of hastily made documentaries that chase after shock value. But every so often, it presents us with something more reflective and meticulously produced, encouraging viewers to engage critically. “Poisoned” is definitely in this more thoughtful bracket. The documentary is enhanced by Justin Melland’s stirring yet contemplative music and Rod Hassler’s striking visuals. One particularly poetic scene at a Perdue chicken hatchery captures the journey of chicks from hatching to farm life, which might just make you reconsider your meat consumption, if only briefly. “Poisoned” confronts us with the uncomfortable truths about our eating habits and how much we’re willing to ignore for convenience. This film makes it increasingly difficult to remain blissfully unaware of the darker aspects of our food system.
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