Poultry farmer Frank Reese in a scene from "Eating Animals," directed...

Poultry farmer Frank Reese in a scene from "Eating Animals," directed by Christopher Quinn. Credit: Sundance Selects

PLOT A documentary version of Jonathan Safran Foer's book about modern meat consumption. Narrated by Natalie Portman.

NOT RATED (disturbing images of animal mistreatment)


PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas and Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington

BOTTOM LINE A slightly scattered but compelling argument for responsible meat-eating, if not outright abstention.

If, like most Americans, you are a carnivore, you're on track to eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's a record. The average American is expected to eat something like 10 ounces of meat each day, almost twice the amount recommended by the USDA.

Facing an uphill climb, then, is Christopher Quinn's documentary “Eating Animals,” which argues that America's consumption of mass-produced meat is both ethically dubious and environmentally harmful. Narrated and produced by Natalie Portman (a longtime vegetarian and now vegan), “Eating Animals” is based on Jonathan Safran Foer's book of 2009. It was a bestseller then — though nearly a decade later, America's love of a good burger clearly hasn't diminished.

The film takes a multipronged approach to its argument and seems realistic about its goals. For starters, “Eating Animals” isn't necessarily preaching total abstention, despite its harrowing footage of deformed chickens and ulcer-plagued cows in factory farms. As an alternative, the film suggests eating meat from small, ethically minded producers. One example is Frank Reese, a turkey farmer whose bond with his birds is both tender and clear-eyed. “I love my turkeys,” he says, “so I'm aware of what's going to happen to them.”

If scenes of animal mistreatment don't rattle you, a segment devoted to the infamous “pink lagoons” of North Carolina just might. These massive lakes contain what looks like Pepto-Bismol but turns out to be pig waste, which is jettisoned into the air with giant lawn sprinklers and has been blamed for water pollution, diseased fish and open sores on the arms of local fishermen. That ought to put you off your bacon.

Quinn (“God Grew Tired of Us”) makes for a slightly disorganized tour guide, flitting back and forth between topics, arguments and interview subjects. Portman's narration, meanwhile, is mostly sparing and only occasionally strikes a hand-wringing tone. (“The Earth just tilted,” she says when describing the rise of factory farming, “and everybody fell into the hole.”) Overall, if “Eating Animals” gets you to think twice about that prepackaged beef or frozen chicken, it will have done its job.

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