the movie is excellent-
September 21, 2005 Los Angeles Times
Don't eat this movie
A Q&A with Deborah Koons Garcia about her polemical documentary on
By Corie Brown, Times Staff Writer
AMERICAN agribusiness, hellbent on controlling the Earth's food supply,
has unleashed genetically engineered plants that are taking over family farms
and threatening the health of the nation.
It may sound like Hollywood science fiction, but it's the
truth about what's happening on farms today, according to filmmaker Deborah
Koons Garcia. And consumers, she says, need to understand what is at stake and
demand changes — before it is too late.
In her polemical documentary, "The Future of Food," which
opened Friday at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Garcia lays out this doomsday
Starting with the dawn of modern pesticides after World War
II, Garcia builds her case by telling the personal stories of farmers whose
lives were upended when courts ruled that Monsanto Co. owned the crops in their
fields, not the other way around, because of the unique nature of genetically
With rudimentary scientific explanations, bolstered by a cast
of sympathetic scientists, she asserts that these untested laboratory-created
plants have the potential to unleash a massive health crisis (caused by
widespread antibiotic intolerance and serious allergic reactions). To leave
viewers with some sense of hope, the story of the rise of organic family farms
concludes her third act.
Garcia doesn't waste time balancing her views with a defense
from the other side. The world has heard enough of what corporations have to
say for themselves, she says. This is simply a call to action.
Producer-director Garcia researched genetic engineering and
corporate farming for three years, using funds from the estate of her late
husband, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, to finance the project.
Her film may overreach, with anti-genetic engineering experts
who claim to know the motivations of companies such as Monsanto, and general
claims about birth defects that aren't backed up with data. But if she is even
half right, she will continue the family tradition of whipping up a crowd and
creating a sensation.
In addition to Los Angeles, the "Future of Food" is playing
in New York City and opening soon in Minneapolis, Berkeley, Cambridge, Mass.,
and Boulder, Colo., among other cities.
I spoke with Garcia about the film by phone last Friday.
Question: What made you aware of the issues surrounding genetically
Answer: I became a vegetarian in college in the 1970s and began studying
the difference between organic and regular agriculture. As I tried to eat a
healthy diet, I became interested in the political issues with food. I wanted
to crystallize these ideas in a film, to tell people the things they may not
know about their food.
But my interest goes back to when I was in high school in
1965. I won first prize in a Cincinnati science fair for an experiment [using
radiation to modify seeds]. It was clear to me then the effect that people can
have on plants.
Q: Awhile back, you made a couple of minor documentaries — "Poco Loco,"
"All About Babies," "Grateful Dawg" — but nothing this ambitious. Why should I
believe that you understand such a complex scientific issue? Why should I trust
you to tell this story accurately?
A: You shouldn't. I present a position in an advocacy film; I'm not
trying to give all sides of the story. This is a big issue. I tried to make a
film that makes sense; I built an argument based on facts. Monsanto does
control the seed supply in our country. It is the dominant company in genetic
engineering. The company is suing farmers to control those genetically
engineered seeds. There is no oversight of genetically engineered crops. And
the idea that we need genetic engineering to solve world hunger has been
Q: In your film, you challenge the assumption that genetically
engineered food is safe, but your proof seems incomplete.
A: The hard thing about talking about the safety of genetic engineered
crops is that these foods haven't been tested. There is an absence of proof
that genetically engineered products are or that they aren't healthy. Until
there are some serious studies, we aren't going to know.
The government says the corporations have tested the health
safety of the plants. And the corporations say the FDA [Food and Drug
Administration] says they are OK. They are covering for each other … and once
this stuff is out there blowing around, we can't call it back. It will have
already contaminated our fields. Meanwhile, there are more people with food
Q: That's a statistic?
A: I've read somewhere that there are more food allergies, and I've
talked to grocery store managers who say people are coming up to them all of
the time talking about food allergies. That didn't used to happen. You can't
even have peanuts in New York City schools any more because there are so many
allergies to peanuts. We don't know how or whether genetically engineered foods
are contributing to that, but it's happening.
Q: Monsanto is the focus of your film, but you don't quote Monsanto or
allow anyone to represent its point of view in your film. Doesn't the truth
require a full telling of the story, or at least allowing the accused a
A: I asked Monsanto for an interview. We told them we were making a film
about genetic engineering, and they sent us a CD by the big PR firm for all of
the biotech companies. We used it all through the film. To my mind, it is more
telling than to allow the manifestation of the corporation to be some nice guy
presenting an image of the corporation as a person. I chose to use what they
chose to give me.
Q: Our country's food system is designed to deliver the lowest cost food
to consumers. Your film champions organic food grown by family farmers, which
may be all to the good, but isn't it elitist? Those foods are more expensive
and not widely available.
A: We don't pay the true cost of food in our country. Food is cheap in
the grocery aisles, but billions of tax dollars go to subsidize that food. We
don't pay the cost of obesity from high-fructose corn syrup, the cost of
pollution, the cost of health problems.
Food has been an elitist issue, so far. But it is possible
for all kinds of people to relate to good food, sitting at the table with
family, good conversation. It's so much a part of being human. I hope the
revolution that's already happening on the coasts will spread to the middle of
the country. There is a farmer in Kansas who got a bunch of the "Future of
Food" DVDs and is selling them at her farm stand. They understand that the
sense of community that used to exist in the Midwest is being harmed by
Q: I felt outraged by the story of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer
sued by Monsanto for patent infringement after its genetically engineered seeds
blew into his field and took root without his knowledge. And I was sickened by
the thought of the federal government failing to conduct health studies of
these genetically engineered foods. At the same time, I felt manipulated. I
didn't believe that I had been given the full story.
A: Film is by nature manipulative. It is wrenching to hear Percy tell
his story. It is upsetting and it is disturbing to learn about the lack of
research. I wanted it to be intellectually challenging, but the only way change
is going to take place is if people have an emotional reaction. I don't know if
I unfairly manipulated things. I'm not a journalist. I'm a filmmaker.
Q: Do you think you went too far by using photos of Nazi troops and
other nightmarish images? I didn't see the connection between them and
genetically modified food.
A: The point is that pesticides and fertilizers came from military
technology. Is that heavy-handed? Well, yeah, that thought crossed our minds.
But nerve gas was turned into pesticides. Hey, it's a film about agriculture.
You can only show so many tractors.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the film?
A: I hope that people will challenge the genetically engineered food
industry's takeover of our food supply, challenge its presence in our food
supply, and, then, appreciate family farms. I want them [people] to not make
assumptions about their food safety.
Q: There is a bit of irony in using $1 million from the estate of your
late husband, Jerry Garcia, to try to force people to face reality. Most people
associate the Grateful Dead with escaping reality.
A: Only 30% of Americans think they have eaten genetically engineered
foods, yet virtually all of us have. They are already participating in that
reality, they just don't know it. I'm doing them a favor. They can sit down and
in 90 minutes have a deep understanding of something they would have to spend
years studying to learn as much.
The reality of Jerry's life is that, 100 nights out of the
year, he played for 30,000 to 80,000 people. That was his reality. He sweated
his way to the top. You don't do that by escaping.