Thursday, March 4, 2010
Eric Schlosser – muckraker, best-selling writer and local – isn’t a stranger to the Academy Awards. In 2007, the acclaimed There Will Be Blood, which he executive produced, won two of eight nominations. But Food, Inc.’s nomination for best documentary seems to carry much more significance for Schlosser, who co-produced the film and continues to be pleasantly surprised by the national attention it’s receiving. A week before the Academy Awards, the Weekly spoke with the Fast Food Nation author about the Food, Inc. nomination, the current state of food politics and his love affair with In-N-Out Burger. What’s been most gratifying about the film’s reception? It’s been amazing how well this film has been received. It got great reviews and it’s also been seen by so many people. So many more people will see this film than will ever read one of my books or Michael Pollan’s books on the subject. It’s just a way to get the information out to the public at large, so it’s all been good. What progress have you seen in food regulation as of late? Firstly, there’s such a greater awareness about these issues than there was a few years ago, let alone more than a decade ago when I started the research for Fast Food Nation. Secondly, there’s been a sea change in public attitudes, and I think this film is having a real impact in that way. We have an administration in Washington that I think fundamentally understands these issues and wants to make the right changes. Whether they’ll be able to do that or not is an open question, given the opposition in Congress. But if you look at Michelle Obama’s initiatives on obesity and [the fact] that the director of agriculture is a strong believer in organics and sustainable agriculture, it’s an entirely different climate now than during the last administration. I think that represents the future direction of policy. The Bush administration was the last gasp of an outdated way of thinking about these issues. Can you attribute any of that to the film? I wouldn’t attribute what’s going on to the film or to any one book. When you have a movement for change – it’s never one film, it’s never one book, it’s a lot of people writing and thinking about these issues. I wouldn’t claim enormous credit for Food, Inc. in changing the world, but it’s definitely part of the process of change. It will be broadcast on PBS in April and it will be seen by millions more people, and hopefully other people are going to write other books on this subject and make other films; that’s how things change. How did you feel when you found out that Food, Inc. was nominated? It’s just a good thing. It’s so hard to get a documentary funded; it’s even harder to get a documentary distributed in theaters. The whole independent world right now is really struggling. So, on top of all that, to get nominated for an Oscar is just wonderful. There’s so many good documentaries made every year and I don’t think the Oscars are the ultimate determinant of what’s good. But it’s sure better to get nominated than not to get nominated. If Food, Inc. wins, what will it mean for the film’s overall cause? Just to get nominated brings it to the attention of the hundreds of millions of people who will be watching it around the world. If it wins, that will give it an even greater boost. Oddly enough, the biggest boost the film got was two weeks ago, when Oprah Winfrey featured it on her show and really went out of her way to praise the film and tell her viewers that not only should they watch it, they should buy it. Within about an hour it became the number-one-selling DVD in the Unites States. This is a documentary about serious social and political issues in this country, and for about four or five days it was outselling Twilight and the Michael Jackson movie. If there was a choice between Oprah and an Oscar nomination, I don’t know. We love Oprah. What’s the hardest part about eating consciously with kids programmed by peers and television to crave fast food? The hardest part for most families is the cost, especially now, with the economic downturn. You have to pay a little bit more when you buy the food, but ultimately the cost to yourself and your health and your families’ health is a lot less in the long run. People have done studies that preparing your food from scratch and making a healthy meal is actually less expensive than stopping for a fast food meal. But that doesn’t take into account peoples’ lives; the time and energy needed to make the meal. If you could afford it and you have the time, it’s definitely something you need to be doing, especially if you have kids. What’s your favorite local burger? I hate to say it, but it’s probably In-N-Out in Gilroy. Did you hear there are plans to build one in Seaside? That’s very dangerous, ‘cause right now, I only get to go there when I’m driving back and forth from San Jose or San Francisco. Having one inside is going to be very tempting. It’s not health food but it’s food that has a kind of integrity to it. Michael Pollan writes in Foodul Res, “Pay more for less food.” How can we include the poor beyond what’s happening with EBT in farmers markets? There needs to be fewer government subsidies for unhealthy food and maybe all kinds of subsidies for people to eat health food. It would certainly be less expensive than national healthcare paying for people’s dialysis or heart-bypass surgery. There are all kinds of ways, especially in this state that is such a big producer of foods we should be eating. We have to be creative in the way we link up California farmers with California consumers, especially with the schools. Will you be attending the Oscars? I haven’t decided yet. I’m rushing to finish another book. How will you celebrate if the film wins? I’ll go down to Big Sur Bakery and get a pizza. Any future film projects in the works? I don’t. I’m really a writer; I’m not a film producer. Food, Inc. was not easy. It took years to get the financing, and it took years to get the film made. I’m really proud of it, but I wonder if I’d be tempting fate to get involved in something else. I read that you’re working on a book about prisons. I’ve been working for years on a book about prisons, but I’m also working on a shorter book on nuclear weapons. Anything you could share about its progress? I wish it were done. I was hoping it would come out in the fall, but it’s just been really complicated and I care passionately about the subject and I’m trying to make sure I do it right. Hopefully before the end of the year it will come out.