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"Food Chains": Injustice by the Pound 

Tuesday, Nov 25 2014
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Here's another appetite-spoiling exposé on how America feeds itself, and fails to. With narration by Forest Whitaker, Sanjay Rawal's urgent documentary tracks a labor dispute between weary Florida tomato-pickers and the supermarket chain from which they want and really deserve an extra penny for every pound of tomatoes picked. Sure, that adds up when you traffic in tomatoes by the ton, but these are people who earn less than 50 bucks for a 15-hour work day. Rawal spins out their obscenely unfair story to reveal how the business of American agriculture was of course built on a foundation of violated human rights. It's an affront longstanding enough for several generations of Kennedys to have raised their public voices about it, and in 1960 so did Edward R. Murrow in a TV special called Harvest of Shame: "One farmer looked at this and said, 'We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them.'" Cut to more than half a century later, and the shame is everywhere, even and especially California's beloved Napa Valley. The storytelling techniques in Food Chains aren't exactly fresh; there's a kind of sprawling industrialization in this now semi-hackneyed structure in which humble key players' testimonies routinely get interrupted by less humble talking heads, and context gets beaten over our heads through animated lessons and snappy postscript text telling us what to do. It's important to know that those Florida farmworkers got organized and got some progress started. But only some.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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