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Food, Inc. and Under Our Skin

A Pair of Documentaries Proves Scarier than Anything Hollywood Can Concoct

Above: "Food, Inc." takes a look at the modern food chain and it's not a pretty picture

In the heat of the summer I have to confess that I sometimes get delirious and get distracted by the big, noisy summer blockbusters, and end up missing some of the smaller, more substantial films. So in an attempt to make up for that oversight, here is a pair of worthy documentaries that you can still catch in theaters: "Food, Inc." (still playing at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) and "Under Our Skin" (currently playing at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters).

If there aren't any horror films currently in theaters that look scary enough for you then you might want to consider watching these two documentaries because there's plenty to horrify you in these non-fiction works. In "Food, Inc." you discover information about what you eat that will make you think twice about what you put in your mouth, and in "Under Our Skin" you are exposed to the dual horrors of Lyme disease and the current state of health care. Between these two films you should have enough to keep you up at night.

Robert Kenner's "Food, Inc." is in the mode of Upton Sinclair's muckraking novel "The Jungle." Sinclair's 1906 novel focused primarily on the horrible conditions that existed in the U.S. meat packing industry. His book helped incite public outcry, which in turn led to the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. Kenner would probably like nothing better than to stir a similar outcry with his documentary that looks more broadly to the food we eat and the process by which it gets to our plates.

Do consumers need to make better choices? "Food, Inc."

Magnolia Pictures

Above: Do consumers need to make better choices? "Food, Inc."

Kenner presents a lot of information that people may be familiar with but by gathering it all together, he effectively connects the dots in such a manner that audiences will hopefully take note. Through multiple interviews with authors, farmers, and others, Kenner lays out the process of preparing food for mass consumption. The trend toward corporate, centralized control of the food industry has led to low quality food items that can be sold more and more cheaply in larger and larger quantities with seemingly less and less government oversight and accountability in regards to quality and safety.

Kenner shows that the poor conditions for the animals can also lead to greater health risks for consumers and for the workers (who are frequently illegal immigrants that feel they have no rights). Helping Kenner make a cogent argument for change or at the very least concern are Michael Pollan (author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" and "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World") and Eric Schlosser (author of "Fast Food Nation" and "Chew on This"). But while corporations and the politicians who seem to be representing rather than regulating them are often made the bad guys, Kenner doesn't let consumers or farmers completely off the hook either. Consumers and farmers have choices. For the farmers, it's not an easy choice and going against the big companies can have serious repercussions. Consumers have some easier choices, but those choices prove easier to make for those with more money. Consumers have the choice – for a price -- to buy organic or to buy higher end food items but they often prefer the cheaper, faster options.

In the end, "Food, Inc." tries to be a wake up call. It wants to jolt audiences out of complacency and acceptance. It presents a compelling and often disturbing portrait of the food industry in America and makes us wonder if there's been enough of an improvement since Upton Sinclair raked the muck back at the turn of the last century.

The cause of controversy and disease in "Under Our Skin"

Open Eye Pictures

Above: The cause of controversy and disease in "Under Our Skin"

If problems in the food industry have been somewhat in the media eye with massive recalls and deaths from e coli, "Under Our Skin" turns out attention to something that has been more under the radar – Lyme disease. People may recall it is spread through ticks around the northeast part of the country, and that model Christie Brinkley was the first celebrity case to make the news. But most people probably don't know that Lyme Disease is affecting more people than West Nile and AIDS, or that a controversy has been raging about what the disease is exactly and how best to cure it. And that many people with the disease are caught in the middle of this debate and are not getting access to treatment.

Director Andy Abrahams Wilson was inspired to make the film after his sister was diagnosed with the illness. Like Kenner in "Food, Inc." Wilson in "Under Our Skin" is most effective at connecting the dots for viewers and explaining why we are in the position we are currently in. And as with "Food, Inc." the answers revolve primarily around greed, big business, and politicians. Wilson shows how the changes that have occurred in government regulations, health care, the pharmaceutical industry, and research have slowly led to a loss of checks and balances that have resulted in the government and science working less in the name of public interest and more in the name of big business. The medical debate over what's best for a patient has been tainted by politics, big business, and money.

This has meant that people who have chronic Lyme disease have face problems getting the disease diagnosed as such and consequently have been unable to get long-term treatment that often requires antibiotics. Some of these patients – a number of who share their harrowing stories – explain how they were told it was all in their heads and that they needed psychiatric treatment not medical treatment. The film shows how doctors who specialized in the disease and prescribed long-term treatment were sometimes forced out of the medical profession.

If the process of trying treat the disease weren't bad enough, Wilson shows how debilitating the disease itself can be for some of the victims. For some the disease has led to incapacitation, loss of energy, vision problems, loss of memory, and mental deterioration. Wilson explains that we are seeing an increase in diseases that jump from one species to another, and that during a time when many animal species are going extinct, viruses seem to be flourishing. So "Under Our Skin" plays out in part like a sci-fi horror film in which people are infected with a horrible virus that can take a devastating toll on the victim. And what makes it worse is that the people or organizations that should be there to help are not always there to help.

Dana Walsh says the worst thing about the disease is that people think she is normal, "Under Our Skin"

Open Eye Pictures

Above: Dana Walsh says the worst thing about the disease is that people think she is normal, "Under Our Skin"

"Under Our Skin" delivers a piece of strong investigative journalism. The bulk of the interviews are with the victims themselves, allowing these people to finally speak out about both their disease and the obstacles that have been placed in their way. But Wilson also seeks out the doctors who claim there is no such thing as chronic Lyme disease or that the disease can't be transferred from a pregnant mother to her baby. But he counters these doctors' statements with conflicting stories from patients and other doctors. Wilson also counters his journalistic desire to ferret out information with a filmmaker's sense of trying to make his film look good. He shoots people in visually appealing ways and places his main interviewees in their environments so we are not simply bombarded with talking heads.

Both "Under Our Skin" and "Food, Inc." are designed as wake up calls, and both filmmakers would like nothing better than seeing their films prompt a more widespread public debate. But it's scary in "Under Our Skin" to see Lyme diagnosis guidelines written by a medical board that had members in the pockets of the insurance companies that were averse to paying for any lengthy antibiotic treatment. The Connecticut attorney general worries that there's a dangerous conflict of interest when many on the medical board are taking money from HMOs that have a vested interest in the published guidelines for a particular disease or illness. In the end, "Under Our Skin" proved to be the scariest film I've seen all year.

Companion viewing: "Flow," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Soylent Green," "Lymelife"

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Avatar for user 'AnneinSanDiego'

AnneinSanDiego | July 8, 2009 at 12:25 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Hi Everyone! I am here to tell you these are MUST SEE films for every American. Especially UNDER OUR SKIN!! ONLY SHOWING AT ONE THEATER HERE IN SAN DIEGO (GASLAMP 15) FOR ONLY ONE MORE WEEK...THROUGH JULY 16. Don't miss your chance!!!

It is about much, much more than Lyme Disease. As Beth so eloquently states, it shows how corrupt our healthcare system really is. It unveils the faces of approximately 15 doctors...who are ultimately 'theives' and the gate keepers in preventing hundreds of thousands of americans from getting proper diagnosis and treatment. Many are MIS-diagnosed with MS, ALS, Parkinsons, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Autism, Alzheimers, Cognitive and Emotional Problems when an actuality they really have a chronic, fatal infection...Lyme Disease. It is a proven fact now that this is a bigger epidemic than AIDS!! Projected annual cases of AIDS is 40,000 and Lyme 200,000! AND I am here to tell you that ticks and Lyme Disease are here in San Diego! I know personally of someone who got bit in her back yard in Talmadge and another who got bit in Carlsbad on the sidewalk of her neighborhood...both contracting Lyme Disease.


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Avatar for user 'AnneinSanDiego'

AnneinSanDiego | July 8, 2009 at 12:32 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago


Dr. Therese Yang (the ONLY Lyme Literate Medical Doctor here in San Diego County) will be doing a Q & A discussion

Thursday, July 9, 2009
after the 430pm showing
Gaslamp 15 Theater Downtown
701 5th Ave. San Diego, CA 92101
Purchase advance tickets at

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Avatar for user 'AnneinSanDiego'

AnneinSanDiego | July 8, 2009 at 12:34 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

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Avatar for user 'Dorothyincalifornia'

Dorothyincalifornia | July 8, 2009 at 1:34 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Thank you, KPBS, for publishing such an insightful review of "Under Our Skin." Here in California, people are too often denied medical treatment for Lyme because "there's no Lyme in California." Not true. The ticks that can carry Lyme disease have been found in 56 of our state's 58 counties--including San Diego County.

People who need information about Lyme disease should check out website of the California Lyme Disease Association. And everyone should go see "Under Our Skin"--and take family and friends with you. It's that important.

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Avatar for user 'SusieSD'

SusieSD | July 8, 2009 at 1:48 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Readers, you can't afford to miss the documentary, Under Own Skin. Wilson powerfully documents the ease with which we can become infected with Lyme Disease (LD), usually without our knowledge, and how difficult it is to diagnose and treat, given current political dimensions in the areas of medicine and insurance. Indeed, LD is usually misdiagnosed, and people spend far too many years of their lives feeling frail and hopeless. Certainly some die before they are accurately diagnosed and treated.

If you're lucky (about 36-50% of infected people), the tick responsible for LD will leave its trademark bulls-eye rash. But without the rash and no evidence of a tick, you'll need loads of good fortune. It was my very good fortune to have developed a rash, worked with a colleague who recognized what it was, and found the local LD support and education group. And without the expertise of this wonderful group of people, I would never have known where to turn for AGGRESSIVE treatment since few "Lyme-literate" physicians practice in our area (or ANY area). Only an aggressive treatment protocol is known to be effective against this bacteria.

By the way, I'm a San Diego resident who doesn't live in the woods and doesn't hike. But like most other San Diegans, I love to work in my garden, and it was there that I was infected. ANYTHING living that is able to get into your yard can be a vector for this dangerous bacteria: rats, mice, skunks, opossum, cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles. They've even found them on fleas and mosquitoes. Who among us does not have one or more of these creatures in our yards, homes, or places of work?

SEE THIS DOCUMENTARY. You're only a tick away...

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Avatar for user 'sherdrew'

sherdrew | July 8, 2009 at 1:56 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

This film explains what happens to most people who get Lyme. Lyme is not always easy to diagnose and certainly, if left untreated, is not easy to cure.

Knowing what can happen is 1/2 the battle. Not knowing is 1/2 the problem.

Thank you for showing this film! You have helped many people.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | July 9, 2009 at 1:37 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Thanks to everyone for posting comments and sharing useful information. It's also to have a theater like Reading Gaslamp that will showcase films like this and allow for post film discussions.

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Avatar for user 'cazpur'

cazpur | July 9, 2009 at 7:27 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

This was an extreemly powerful movie! I cant tell you how much I was moved by the information, as well as the passion put into it.

The doctors who have dedicated their lifes work to helping Lyme patients are amazing. They desearve a huge hug from the community at large.

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Avatar for user 'maritza'

maritza | July 9, 2009 at 7:47 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Even if you DON'T HAVE LYME disease, this movie exposes the corruption within the medical, scientific, government institutes that is affecting the correct diagnosis and treatment of many other diseases.
GO SEE THIS MOVIE for a big wake up call.

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Avatar for user 'gforce'

gforce | July 9, 2009 at 8:43 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

I have had chronic lyme disease for 15+ years and was misdiagnosed until 9 months ago. I am a nurse and had no idea this was going on until I got thrown into the thick of it dealing with chronic lyme myself. It is a disgrace what is happening in our health care system and to people chronically ill with diseases all over this country.

I believe that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER- and we all need to stand up for our fellow Americans and for our rights. You will learn a lot and be angry- angry enough to help us do something about it. Please see this film... it will open your eyes!

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Avatar for user 'SGTMAC'

SGTMAC | July 9, 2009 at 10:16 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

I am a former infantry marine, if youve ever seen the movie THE MARINE ( a B movie for sure) That is what I looked like, 225lbs, 5% body fat, former competetive swimmer and gymnast in high school. In the USMC I always had the highest physical fitness scores, and maxed virtualy every mental test they threw at me, graduated #1 in all but 1 school where I was beat by 1/4 point. I was strong, agile and confident. I was in a head on collision with a 1968 Cadillac at freeway speed while on a motercycle, That collision ended my career as a Marine but it has nothing on Lyme disease. I have been reduced to a scared, cofused angry as hell, worthless pile of $#!^. I wake up paranoid with a headache that feels like someone drilled a hole in my head without anesthesia poured a mixture of gasoline and acid in my brain, lit it on fire and they have been trying to put it out with a baseball bat for the last 18 months.
This movie made me feel better only because I realized I was not alone. Let me alone with these pompous so called medical elite, I bet I could change their mind. If they are so sure of themselves why dont they infect them selves with Lyme and all its coinfections and wait a year before they treat themselves only after they have been ridiculed to a point where they are trembling with fear, then let them take some Doxy for a month as per their protocal. If theyre so sure, it should be a sinch, c'mon you cowards lets see youre talk become action. TICK TOC TICK TALK

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Avatar for user 'EMSD'

EMSD | July 12, 2009 at 8:14 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Finally someone is giving this malicious disease its due. i suffered for 20 years or more before I was diagnosed - years of being told it was all in my head. And to add insult to injury, the insurance companies year after year get away with denying our claims. We didn't ask to be bitten - it's a travesty. Thank goodness there are some doctors out there who are knowledgeable in the disease and are making such valiant efforts to treat it in spite of the lack of recognition of mainstream medicine. I can only hope that with the advent of this brilliant film, progress will be made and people will begin to understand what having Lyme disease really means to sufferers and to others who do not yet know they even have it. Kudos to Ms. Accomando for such insightful reviewing. Onward and upward!

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