AT THE FORK
Emergent Order
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: A-
Director:  John Papola
Written by: John Papola, Lisa Versaci, Cristina Colissimo
Cast: Dr. Temple Grandin, Wayne Pacelle, Mark Bittman, Terry Branstad
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/23/16
Opens: July 8, 2016 in Cinema Village NY and Laemmle Monica in LA

The title of this movie, “At the Fork,” may be metaphoric but not in the sense meant by the filmmakers.  I’m thinking that it could mean there are three forks in the road, i.e. one more than Robert Frost had considered.  At one fork in the road, you can choose to eat everything, all meat, however raised.  At the second fork, you can choose to eat meat but only if it is raised organically and treated kindly enough to let the animals live out their natural instincts.  At the final fork, the most advanced and ethical one, you can give up eating anything that has a mother and live wholly on plant food.  Probably less than one percent of Americans will choose the most moral route, and only five percent of animals in farms are raised compassionately, allowed to forage around on natural food, and not given antibiotics that will make them grow faster.

While these “forks” are not literally stated in the film, this is quite a good documentary, of value not only to people who have spent years considering the ethics of meat eating and surely for those who have given little if any thought to where their Mickey D’s plate came from.  If you’ve read the bible of the animal rights industry, Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation,” you have absorbed the most comprehensive and intelligent work on the subject, one not improved upon by any book that came out since its publication in 1975.  Whether you have this book in your home library, you owe it to yourself and your family to see “At the Fork.”

If you want your children to see this film, you need not worry that it will show gory pictures by animal rights people with hidden cameras depicting the final moments of cows and other living beings.  What you and your young ones will see, though, is a colorful look at industrial and organic farms spread out over the country, particularly in states like Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.  John Papola, the documentary filmmaker, is an omnivore whose vegetarian wife, Lisa Versaci, convinced him to go on an unusual holiday visiting all types of farms.  He’s doesn’t have a concealed camera, he doesn’t tell the farmers a fake story.  He gets various sides of the debate on animal welfare, largely from farmers who may raise their animals for eventual slaughter but have compunctions about what they’re doing.  Some admit that all farmers must pay attention to the market.  If large groups of people insist on buying only organic meat, there will be independent producers of just that.  If people opt principally for price, the huge industrial farms will accommodate.   We should remember that not everyone in this unequal society of ours can afford to patronize Whole Foods, but implicit in this doc is that idea that even if you’re not as rich as Donald Trump, you can choose a reasonably priced diet based on plants.

The most dramatic image that the filmmakers provide occurs right early on as John Papola is voluntarily locked in a cage, given the amount of space that an animal is allowed to have on the big industrial farms.  It’s not much.  Brought out later in the movie is the fact that a chicken on a mega-farm will have only the amount of room that would fit a piece of paper.

Extreme confinement is not all the suffering that ninety-five percent of animals must accept.  Little pigs, cute as puppy dogs, have their tails cut in half and may be castrated “to provide more tender pork.”  Dairy cows must be kept pregnant continually, their calves torn away from them within hours (before a strong bonding takes place), with some put in small crates for the veal industry.  (Not shown in the film is the idea that veal calves are not allowed even to turn around in these cages to keep their meat soft for the human beings who demand this quality.)

Since Lisa Versaci is vegetarian, she gets great joy in being able to pet humongous pets, spray animals with water, and use these object lessons to try to convince her husband to give up meat eating.  In the end, the documentarian has not converted, but he shows that the experience of this “holiday” makes him think more about the ethics of animal eating than even years listening to his wife’s argumentation has afforded.

A wide selection of guests, mostly farmers who are aware of the need for better treatment of farm animals, are on hand, background music is not overly sentimental or disturbing, and dialogue is easy to hear and understand.  The film is recommended for all ages.  For screenings information, go to AtTheForkFilm.com.  A trailer is available at https://vimeo.com/167515947.

Unrated.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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