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Year of Plenty

New Development: Hollywood Considers Big Agribusiness Evil Enough to Carry the Plot

(Warning: In this post I will reveal a key detail of the movie "Unknown," but not THE key plot twist. I don't think my revelation will ruin the movie for you but if you want to play it safe you might want to skip this post.)

I saw the movie "Unknown" yesterday and while it was a pretty good movie, what impressed me the most is that the evil dark force that drives the plot of the movie is a large agribusiness interest out to protect their monopoly on genetically modified corn. While big ag. companies like Monsanto have been villainized in recent documentaries like Food Inc. and King Corn, this feature turn in major studio suspense thriller seems like a new cultural development. It may be the culmination of a recent trend.

image from The 2007 movie Michael Clayton featuring George Clooney portrays another menacing ag company that resorts to placing a car bomb in the Clooney character's car to help along a legal case. The 2009 flick The Informant, with Matt Damon, tells the story of Archer Daniels Midland as big-business price fixers. But Unknown takes it to a new level, with genetically modified corn as the key plot point and a major international mafia hit at the behest of the company. Instead of Cold War politics or Muslim extremism, the action of the movie is spurred on by agriculture wars. 

I'm intrigued by this as a cultural moment. Hollywood specializes in portraying large corporations as evil forces, so maybe this just shows that large ag. companies like Monsanto have grown big enough in the cultural consciousness to warrant the same treatment. It also hints that the topic of genetic modification of plants has hit the mainstream. In an interesting twist, the movie portrays the company as evil and greedy but makes no such judgment on the genetic modification of plants, actually celebrating a new strain of corn as a life-saving breakthrough. The problem with the new strain is that the developer wants to give the secret away instead of hoarding it for profit. While corn and GMO's are the topic, it's really a story about good old-fashioned greed.

As Hollywood develops this new genre of veggie-tales, I've got some recommendations. I'd like to see a movie that does the opposite of Unknown, by showing the companies as well-intentioned, but imaginatively plays out the dire consequences of the genetic modification of food in the long-term. That's actually the more realistic scenario. Maybe a cross between the Matrix and Animal Farm where humankind is ruled by frankenstein-like farm animals. Or something along the lines of Road Warrior, where all the oil is gone, all the mono-culture crops are ravaged by disease and insects, world economies collapse because of the shortage of grain, and hunger runs rampant. I'm not too worried about the first scenario, but the second story seems quite possible. 

Feel free to add your own movie plot ideas. 

Year of Plenty

The Year of Plenty blog was created by Craig Goodwin in the winter of 2008 to chronicle the experiences of his family as they sought to consume everything local, used, homegrown or homemade. That journey was a wonderful introduction to people and movements in the Spokane area who are seeking the welfare of the community through local foods, farmers markets, community gardens, sustainable transportation, and more fulfilling and just patterns of consumption. In 2009 and beyond the blog will continue to report on these relationships and practices, all through the eyes of a family with young children. Craig manages the Millwood Farmers' Market, is a Master Food Preserver and Pastor at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Craig can be reached at