American Meat: Film Review

Less sensationalist than its similarly themed predecessors, this informative documentary makes a strong case for the benefits of organic famring. 

Graham Meriwether's documentary explores the current state of hog, chicken and cattle production in the U.S.

Documentaries like American Meat make it much harder for the viewer to go out and enjoy a big, juicy hamburger immediately after leaving the theater. Although Graham Meriwether’s film is far less incendiary than such similarly themed efforts as Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation, it nonetheless offers considerable — pardon the pun — food for thought in its exploration of modern-day cattle, hog and chicken production. Receiving its theatrical premiere at NYC’s Cinema Village — opening night will feature a “grass carpet” — the film will find its biggest audience on home video formats.

Eschewing such sensationalist tactics as hidden-camera footage of the horrific conditions at many modern industrial farms, the film makes a powerfully persuasive case for the benefits of small, grass-based organic farms and local sourcing. Featuring extensive interviews with a variety of farmers -- chief among them Joel Salatin, whose PolyFace Farms is considered a paragon of the trend — it presents its arguments forcefully but without strident didacticism.

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But even as it presents such disturbing facts as the average age of farmers being over 50, its proposal that more Americans abandon their professions and enter the field seems somewhat less than practical. The farmers themselves testify about the difficulties they face, such as one who says that he would gladly raise organic meat — which he acknowledges as tasting much better — but for the difficulty of securing a contract with a major distributor like Whole Foods.

The filmmaker leavens the procession of talking heads with cheerful animated interludes and footage of the farmers at work. Suffice it to say that you’ll be less inclined to eat pork after watching the Babe-resembling pigs happily frolicking while unaware of their eventual fate.

One of the films sponsors, not surprisingly, is the Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle, with generous screen time afforded to its policy of using fresh, local-based ingredients whenever possible. Although the segment feels overly promotional, it does offer a ray of hope about the otherwise dismal state of affairs in the fast-food industry.

Opens April 12 (Leave It Better LLC)

Director: Graham Meriwether

Screenwriters: Memo Salazar, Graham Meriwether, Ryan Nethery

Producers: Memo Salazar, Ryan Nethery, Alejandro de Onis, Carlye Rubin, Graham Meriwether

Directors of photography: Ryan Nethery, Graham Meriwether

Editor: Memo Salazar

Composer: Alison Plante

Not rated, 85 min.