Netflix’s latest take on the food industry, “Rotten” leaves you feeling uncomfortable, slightly bored and at times very perplexed. Brought you by Zero Point Zero Productions, the same guys behind the Anthony Bourdain shows, the show lacks luster as it delivers some very powerful messages. Through its six episodes, “Rotten” touches upon topics like market dumping, food allergies, garlic peeled by Chinese prisoners, vertical integration in the production sphere and the effect of government regulations on food production.
Each episode discusses important issues at hand, while attempting to shed light on the experiences of those in the midst of such problems. They interview everyone from local farmers, lawyers, medical practitioners to industry big wings and end consumers. Their facts are reliable; coming from prestigious media houses and certified experts. Some episodes keep you engaged and flabbergasted to learn about the extent of corruption like with Harmony Garlic and negligence in the case of Mr. Mohammed Khailque Zaman owner of Jaipur Spice. Others touch upon emotions making it hard not to sympathize with victims like the Martian Family and the enduring chicken grower Sonny Nguyen.
“Rotten” ebbs and flows, at times interesting but for most of it boring. The episodes lack narrative direction, at times with two parallel stories that have completely different messages. Some of the individuals in focus come across as whiny and disillusioned, making it hard to watch them for long. In the episode “Milk Money” the debate over the safety of raw milk clashes horribly with the story about a small family of dairy farmers struggling to make ends meet. Similarly, Stanley Crawford’s passion for garlic, although admirable, takes focus away from the premise of the episode which is, if I have understood correctly, that of market dumping.
“Rotten” might not have kept me as engaged as other food documentaries for one simple reason: I could not directly relate to the stories, crimes or overall premise of this documentary / series. I live in India, far away from the cities the crimes discussed have taken place. Further, the root problems being discussed in the series, like that of honey, garlic or cod fish, are more or less restricted to what is happening in the United States of America alone. As a result, as a global viewer I found very little captivating, and was quite disappointed to realise there wasn’t much to take home for me.