The increasing takeover of food production in America by giant corporations—with results that are bad for farmers, consumers and food quality—and the complicity of government, with its “revolving door” policies between companies and regulatory agencies, are the subjects of Robert Kenner’s activist documentary “Food, Inc.,” which the director discussed during a visit to Dallas in conjunction with the film’s screening in the 2009 AFI Film Festival.

“I really wanted to talk about how we can get food on the table—how we can feed ourselves,” Kenner explained about the genesis of the project. “And I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with all the players that bring us food.

“On the one hand, we’re producing food for less money—we spend less of our paycheck [on food] than at any time in history, so that’s a great thing. But on the other hand, there’s a real sort of high cost that’s connected to this production. That’s a reality, and I thought we could explore that.

“But in the process of making [the movie], I realized that most of the industrial food-makers were just off-limits. They didn’t want to talk about it. I think that they feel it’s better if consumers don’t think about where this food comes from. They’ll put pictures of farmers on the walls of the supermarkets, but that’s not where our food comes from. It comes from mega-factories. It’s an industrialized machine. Some of these feed lots produce more waste than two or three cities combined.

“So we’re talking massive industrialization, which has had benefits and had massive problems. And the more that these companies didn’t want to talk, the more I wanted to go inside and try to figure it out, try to understand it. One of the things that bothered me as an American citizen was that we should be able to buy food based on the right to know. I’m not saying whether cloning is good or bad, but if you think it’s so good, why don’t you advertise [meat that comes from] it? Why do we not have the right to know? Why is it hidden from us? And the fact that it’s sort of off-limits is the thing that started to scare me.”

And as Kenner delved more deeply into the matter, interviewing parents whose children were sickened, even died, from tainted food and farmers taken to court by a company like Monsanto on accusations of patent infringement in soybean growing, he grew increasingly concerned about the effect of industrialization in the production of vegetables and fruit and the raising of livestock and poultry.

“There have always been food scares,” Kenner said. “The difference is that we now have science that can prove things, but we’re not allowed to act on it. And the difference is that it’s so centralized. Hamburger used to come from one cow, so a family could get sick. That’s not new. The difference is that now, we can have a third of the country get sick from that same burger, because there’s ten thousand cows that are being spread out through huge chunks of the country. And we don’t have the power to recall it. It’s going to affect us all. None of us are safe. No matter how wealthy and how much you feel you have a moat around you, it’s not true.”

“Food, Inc.” offers no easy answers. “On one level, people say, can you feed the world through Joel Salatin’s farm—that beautiful organic farm [in the movie]?” Kenner said. “I don’t know—probably not. It would be hard. But at the same time, we’re not feeding the world now. There’s still massive numbers of people starving, and even more pertinent is that we’re creating incredible health crises, diabetes in one out of three Americans (one out of every two minority Americans)—early-onset diabetes basically because of the food we’re eating, as well as a passive lifestyle. And so we’re doing ourselves in on some level, and yet we’re not thinking about it. And some people don’t have options. So this was a chance to try to get people to think about it and maybe act, help try to change it.

“The companies would say it’s not the food, it’s personal responsibility. It’s like smoking. The parallels to the smoking world are total—companies putting out information when they knew it was not true. It’s the same thing with food. The one difference is that we have to eat.

“But we can change the system. I didn’t want people to walk away feeling overwhelmed. It’s hard, it’s not going to be easy. But we can change it, and I think there’s an incredible groundswell of interest.”

A groundswell Kenner hopes his film will contribute to.