Eating Animals, 2018, 3 ¾ stars

Chew on this

Animals illuminates horror of meat consumption

Image copyright Big Star Pictures / IFC Films

Exclusive to MeierMovies, September 25, 2018

Movies usually try to avoid leaving a bad taste in your mouth. But that’s precisely the goal of Eating Animals, as the documentary is a crash course in the global nightmare of meat.

Directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn and inspired by Jonathan Foer’s book, the film shines a badly needed light on the environmental, economic, nutritional, drug and animal-rights problems caused by the world’s 50-year creep from small family farms toward “confinement agriculture.”

“The meat industry has done a good job of disconnecting eating meat from killing animals,” one interviewee says. “And it’s really made it possible for people not to fully appreciate that actually an animal had to be murdered for them to eat this. … If the consuming public saw what it really looks like, they would stop eating it.”

The film is slickly produced, complete with a Natalie Portman narration and perfectly executed drone shots. Frankly, I would have been more emotionally moved by gritty 16mm reminiscent of Harlan County U.S.A., as the Portman voiceover and background music are a bit heavy-handed, even distracting. But the film never feels like propaganda. Instead, it carries the weight of Shakespearean tragedy. And judged as a horror film, it’s scarier than Hereditary. Journalistically, it could be more thorough, but it still rings disgustingly true.

“Suffering and disregard for the environment [have] been built into the equation of cost and efficiency,” Portman says. “They’ve calculated how close to death we can keep an animal without killing it, how close to destruction we can keep the environment without losing it all together.”

That’s a powerful quote, but the film isn’t about speech-making. It’s about horrible hidden footage of unspeakable animal abuse. And it’s about facts, such as the more than 400,000 pigs killed in the United States each day so you can eat bacon. Surprisingly, the doc never mentions meat by-products (leather, gelatin, etc.) or fully analyzes animal intelligence, but at just 94 minutes, it just doesn’t have time to tackle every aspect of this enormous topic.

The interviewees – farmers, scientists, consumers and activists – are the highlights of Eating Animals. Their stories are fascinating, heart-breaking and courageous. Yet only two admit to giving up meat, and most still embrace the dignity of traditional farming. In fact, the film neither makes a strong pitch for vegetarianism nor truly tackles the central question of meat consumption: Do humans have the right to kill and eat other intelligent creatures? (The failure to address that query is the movie’s biggest disappointment.) But the interviewees still made profound life choices that have affected both themselves and the meat industry.

For instance, Craig Watts, a former contract farmer for Perdue Farms, exposed his own hen-house horrors and now grows legumes for meat-substitute products. Subjugated to little more than a serf in a feudal system, Watts finally realized he had a choice – or, more accurately, three choices.

“You vote at least three times a day with your fork,” he says.

How will you vote?

Copyright 2018 © Cameron Meier