Yes I know I’m late to the party.

If you haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet you can view it for free on Vimeo. It’s a rather eye-opening documentary about problems in today’s factory farming practices.

What I particularly enjoyed about the documentary was its multi-frame approach to the issue. Food, Inc.’s problems with agribusiness come in various types and shows information for each type: it’s a health issue, an economic issue, a legal/policy issue, an environmental issue and also a labor issue. This is a refreshing departure from the way most social issues are described by today’s media and leaders, which involves pigeonholing complex issues into a singular, narrow issue. The problem with pigeonholing issues is that when an issue is framed as a singular type of issue, people are limited to solutions within that single frame and fail to see how the problem is connected with other spheres.

George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, demonstrates just how important it is to take a macro view of issues with the immigration debate as an example in “The Framing of Immigration”:

“Bush’s ‘comprehensive solution’ entirely concerns the immigrants, citizenship laws, and the border patrol. And, from the narrow problem identified by framing it as an “immigration problem,” Bush’s solution is comprehensive. He has at least addressed everything that counts as a problem in the immigration frame. But the real problem with the current situation runs broader and deeper. Consider the issue of Foreign Policy Reform, which focuses on two sub-issues:

  • How has US foreign policy placed, or kept, in power oppressive governments which people are forced to flee?
  • What role have international trade agreements had in creating or exacerbating people’s urge to flee their homelands? If capital is going to freely cross borders, should people and labor be able to do so as well, going where globalization takes the jobs?

Such a framing of the problem would lead to a solution involving the Secretary of State, conversations with Mexico and other Central American countries, and a close examination of the promises of NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank to raise standards of living around the globe. It would inject into the globalization debate a concern for the migration and displacement of people, not simply globalization’s promise for profits. This is not addressed when the issue is defined as the “immigration problem.” Bush’s “comprehensive solution” does not address any of these concerns. The immigration problem, in this light, is actually a globalization problem.” (bold text added for emphasis)

Lakoff continues to handily transpose the “immigration problem” into other contexts: it’s a “humanitarian crisis” and a “cheap labor issue” as well, and there’s certainly more ways to think about immigration if one had more time. He concludes that “only by broadening the understanding of the situation will the problem, or, rather, the multiple problems, be addressed.”

So I’m happy to see Food, Inc. not shying away from using a multi-frame approach to describe such a complex problem that affects nearly all Americans. Of course, the usual pitfall of such an approach is that viewers become inundated by the deluge of information and the film’s noble message gets lost. Food, Inc., however, does a good job of tying up all these frames as a consumer issue. By showing how the current model of industrial agriculture affects nearly all Americans in so many different and interconnected ways, the film opens a more comprehensive view of the food safety debate. Now if only this could be demonstrated on the rhetoric of Capitol Hill as well.