Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book of the same name, Christopher Quinn’s documentary Eating Animals penetrates the deliberately opaque meat-industrial complex. The film does an excellent job of condensing multiple horrors — the hideous color of hog lagoons, the grotesque proportions factory-farmed poultry are bred to reach, the creepiness of “ag-gag” laws designed to protect corporations from documentarians and consumer advocates’ prying eyes — although individual narratives often become lost. We meet a sad-eyed North Carolina hog farmer who went deep into debt to escape a contract with an agribusiness giant without gleaning quite what happened there, and we follow a Midwesterner whose turn to activism cost him his family and career without fully understanding how.
Although Natalie Portman’s doleful narration can feel overly poetic, nothing can dampen the spiritual heart of the film: Kansas poultry farmer Frank Reese. A soft-spoken man of immense moral rectitude, he becomes an unlikely hero upon learning that he’s all-but-singlehandedly rescued heritage breeds from annihilation simply by adhering to the common-sense practices that guided the industry until the postwar period. Like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, companies that target the meat-consuming population, Eating Animals is not fodder for pious vegans — although a few spliced-in shots of suffering animals are truly disgusting. At its heart, it wants us to feel good about eating meat that has been raised responsibly, with dignity and care. But getting there might take even more effort than guilt-riddled omnivores thought.
Opens Friday at the Clay Theatre.