Vol 7, Num 3 :: 2008.02.08 — 2008.02.22
In the early 80s, Sesame Street had a segment showing how various products were made. This six-year-old watched enthralled as milk was churned by giant metallic arms in football field-long vats, eventually rolling down a production line in golden discs of benign goodness. Today, similar cable shows entrance adults with the making of packaged cupcakes and mac-n-cheese packets, leaving viewers with a feeling of confidence at the transparency of food production. Wegmans Cruelty provides the same service.
Tracing the journey of one “incredible edible” egg from fridge to grocer shelves to hen, the film is the result of a year-long investigation by an organization called Compassionate Consumers whose efforts target the egg production facilities of Wegmans Food Market, the East Coast’s model grocery chain. After being repeatedly denied access to see the production facilities, Compassionate Consumers take matters into their own hands to satisfy that burning curiosity that many of us have: “How do we get our 99 cent eggs??!” Wegmans Cruelty reveals the answer to that question, combining image integrity, effective editing and a succinct message of consumer rights and responsibility, sufficient to make the most rational omelet-lover and cake-baker set the egg carton aside.
Wegmans Cruelty does not rely on stock footage or shock value. Instead, Compassionate Consumers capture on film exactly what they find and where the find it, lending a level of integrity to the finished product. As their investigators’ eyes adjust to the fortress of battery cages, so do the viewers. As investigators’ noses take in the stench created by 750,000 birds, viewers’ senses are affronted. As investigators begin to differentiate single birds from the feathered, anxious mass, so do viewers. Because we are inside the “sheds” with them, viewers begin to imagine the reality behind the egg. With the exception of a few images from industry training videos, the hens shown are never divorced from a particular location. Each discovery depicted is described by the investigator, along with shed location and “Animal Care” certification number of that facility.
Further, animal images are often juxtaposed with policy letters written by Wegmans or actual phone conversations with the Consumer Services representative at Wegmans, whose words are incompatible with the images being shown. Leaders from animal advocacy groups also show up with snippets of info about the neglect inherent in the factory farm formula and the false advertising used by companies to mislead consumers into believing that eggs still come from red barns, overall-clad farmers and happy chickens. Even the Better Business Bureau gets a momentary spotlight. This style of editing effectively portrays the conflicting realities behind food production. This is who Wegmans says they are, this is what they do. This is what packaging suggests, this is what is actually happening. This is who we believe we are as consumers, this is what we are supporting.
At the end, it isn’t a call to strict vegetarianism or to street-corner picketing that Compassionate Consumers elevates, though these would both be possible reactions. It is the old-fashioned call to boycott that prevails. It is the call to get angry at a system that manipulates truth and denigrates life for profit. It is a call to hold our own appetites and wallets against the realities that have been created to satisfy both. It is the call to define what we believe about food production and consumption against the dominant culture and to create communities able to sustain those convictions.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that Compassionate Consumers investigator Adam Durand served one month of a six-month jail sentence for his role in this investigation. Under the new Homeland Security provisions, tampering with food systems is now being considered an act of terrorism. Showing truth as terrorism? Sesame Street this is not, my friends.
You can view the entire 27-minute Wegmans Cruelty film online for free. Watch for the release of Fowl Play, a collaborative feature-length film by Compassionate Consumers and Mercy for Animals that combines undercover footage, interviews with animal behavior experts and factory farming analysis to explore many myths surrounding "cage free," "free range," and organic eggs.