Fight the power: The Meatrix II 1/2 and “Fast Food Nation”

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The fictional adaptation of Eric Schlosser's muckraking best-seller "Fast Food Nation" opens around the United States today. As I wrote last month, I caught the sneak preview and although I have a few beefs with it, I do think it's well worth seeing — especially if you can drag along a teenager, say, or an unsuspecting, nugget-noshing fan of director Richard Linklater's previous movies "Slacker" or "Dazed and Confused."

To promote the film, "The Meatrix II 1/2" was released a few weeks ago, the third in a series of wonderful animated spoofs of the Matrix put together by Sustainable Table and Free Range Studios. (Click the picture above to watch 2 1/2.)

Never heard of the Meatrix?

"The Meatrix is all around you," explains the black-trenchcoat-clad Moopheus to porcine young Leo in the first installment. "It is the story we tell ourselves about where our meat and dairy products come from."

meatrix1.jpgThe Meatrix I does a great job of explaining the truth behind the story: how factory farms came to be and why they're bad for animals, consumers, the communities they operate in, and the environment — in four minutes, no less. Released in 2003, it has since been translated into 30-plus languages and seen by over 15 million viewers worldwide.

The second installment, Meatrix II: Revolting, picked up in March 2006 where the first one left off, at a dairy "farm" where cows are crowded into feedlots and calves are weaned on a mixture that includes cows' blood. Young Leo learns about common practices like cutting off cows' tails and daily dosages of antibiotics and artificial hormones before springing into action in a heavy metal–fueled fight scene. It's oddly satisfying to watch a cartoon pig kick besuited Hugo Weaving lookalikes while yelling "This is for small family farmers! And this is for the hormones! And this is for the cows!"

meatrix2.jpgThe short ends with Moopheus being captured and hauled away in a van, which brings us to The Meatrix II 1/2. As befitting a promotional spot for "Fast Food Nation," Moopheus is bound for a slaughterhouse — called Happy Farms, of course — where the factory workers can't keep up with the carcasses coming down the line. The Bad Guys chuckle that when workers are as expendable as the animals, safety takes a back seat to profit — as does food hygiene, which is why there's so much shit in the meat. (Would you like E. coli with that?) Leo and the large-breasted Chickity must try to rescue him.

Given that it's roughly two minutes long, it seems churlish to complain that 2 1/2 fails to deliver its propaganda as palatably as the first two, but it just feels a little, well, rushed.

(Speaking of propaganda, the fast-food industry is not taking all this lying down. Earlier this year 19 food-industry associations launched Bestfoodnation.com to "separate fact from fiction, and to set the record straight." Note how many times the site and attendant blog use the words safe, plentiful, and cheap.)

Like the feature film, Meatrix II 1/2 was done in partnership with Participant Productions, which backed Al Gore's climate-change documentary. After the short ends, there's a link to Participate.net, which offers five steps to take action and a pretty good new blog with news from the fast-food and meatpacking industries. There's plenty more to read and learn at Sustainable Table, which operates the Eat Well Guide to sustainable producers around the country. (The website Local Harvest can also hook you up with farms, restaurants, and markets in your area.) Sustainable Table has recently expanded its already excellent offerings, adding a huge section with issue-by-issue resources; special features, like this one on turkeys; questions to ask farmers; and lists of dairies that don't use rBGH. If you're new to all this stuff, or need to bone up in certain areas, it's a fantastic place to start.

Fight the Meatrix now!

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