Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Entertainment Review: Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Americans are as sure of the safety of their food as we Indians are of our immunity built by eating chaat on the street. But food contamination is real and the impact has been lethal, with e-coli and salmonella poisoning causing more deaths than anyone would believe. Stepfanie Soechtig’s documentary Poisoned: The Truth About Your Food (on Netflix) could put people off meat forever, but, the surprising fact is that the supposedly healthy greens, romaine lettuce and spinach are the bigger culprits, so is the innocuous peanut butter. Cantaloupe, sprouts, cut fruits and packaged salads can be dangerous carriers of pathogens.

Soechtig had earlier examined America’s obesity problem in her film, Fed Up; this one sends up a cautionary warning about the food industry’s apathy towards the health of people. In America, a lawyer like Bill Marler and other activists can challenge the major food production lobbies and force some change. But powerful industrialists also have the clout to block law suits. In India, if hundreds of people died of food poisoning, it would barely cause outrage– we all know of green vegetable grown along the railway tracks using sewer water; the vegetable vendor sprays gutter water over his wares, the pani puri seller’s water is iffy, so is the cleanliness of his hands that he dips into the pot of spiced pani. All our food is sprinkled with coriander, which, if not washed well, could be the cause of severe illness.

Poisoned, based on the book by investigative journalist Jeff Benedict, is a level-headed, scientific analysis of foodborne pathogens, as well as an emotionally moving story of parents who watched their children suffer and die. Out of court settlements include a non disclosure agreement, which one angry and grief-stricken father,  Darin Deteiler, refused and became a lifelong fighter for food safety

As Bill Marler comments, the manufacturers don’t consider food as food  but as a commodity. And where money is concerned, there is no end to human greed.

A smiling scientist is put on the mat when she is forced to admit that she accepts research grants from the very corporations that are guilty of ignoring contaminants in their products, because they have call back insurance. On the other side is a whistle-blower whose testimony sent to prison his arrogant boss, who sent out consignments of peanut butter knowing they were contaminated.

Meat product manufacturers smugly push the responsibility on to the homemaker, who is advised to cook the chicken or beef at a high temperature that destroys bacteria. But would fast food restaurants adhere to the stipulated cooking laws?

As a growing number of people in India suffer from hitherto unheard of food allergies, it is time for us to be vigilant too!


Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food

Directed by Stepfanie Soechtig

On Netflix

Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best-known entertainment journalists. A National Award-winning fim critic and author of several books on film and theatre. She tweets at @deepagahlot

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