Review: Rotten | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Rotten

TV's Morgana Chess reviews the Netflix documentary that is better than its name suggests, as Rotten delves into the darkest secrets of the food industry

Netflix’s original documentary series Rotten shows us what’s really going on behind our dinner plates. Over the course of six episodes, the show explores the internal operations of the food industry from the ground up, charting the process between the farmers in their fields to the stocked supermarket shelves that we see everyday. Where each episode spends most of its time, however, is with the corrupt business juggernauts that lie in between.

The show zeroes in on several jawdropping scandals
The show zeroes in on several jawdropping scandals, from hive thefts to prison labour to chicken genocides, as international corporations and their lower-ranking workers sacrifice everything to cut costs and achieve maximum efficiency. The food industry is shown as one big competition- with growers in the chicken business even fighting in a ‘tournament’ for wages- where the winners win big and the losers lose everything. Rotten confronts us with the unappetizing idea that these corporate powerhouses who manipulate and exploit food production, have control over our personal diet choices too.

Rotten takes a global outlook, spanning Chinese rice fields, US peanut farms and Brazilian meat factories, as whole countries play out the food game through trade, tariffs and double-crossing. Crime is shown to be an inextricable part of the industry with people always ready to ruthlessly exploit opportunities, allowing shady figures such as the ‘Codfather’ to rise in the fishing industry. Food fraud is commonplace, and we witness some of the devastating consequences of human influence over nature.

Rotten can be more accurately described as a true-crime documentary
Those wary of the ‘go-vegan!’ agenda of other Netflix hits like Cowspiracy and What the Health need not fear, however. Rotten can be more accurately described as a true-crime documentary, exposing the corruptions and scandals of the food industry rather than preaching a certain message about diet. Equally, we are given some fascinating information about the changing nature of food in our modern society.

The show has input from experts on the questions science is striving to answer: what’s happening to the bees? Why are food allergies on the rise? Is our modern society, indeed, rotten? Each episode focuses on a natural product - peanuts, honey, fish, milk, garlic, chicken- and shows how humans have sought to control it and transform it into a commodity. We privatise oceans, adulterate honey and have industrially bred chickens until there are approximately three for every person in the world (they barely existed at the start of the 20th century). Rotten confronts us with the consequences of humans’ actions in the modern world and lets us decide for ourselves whether they are for better or for worse.

The show’s pace is a little slow at times but be patient, the scandals described will astound you

The show’s pace is a little slow at times but be patient, the scandals described will astound you, and episodes ‘Peanut Problem’ and ‘Big Birds’ are must-watches. Are this series of crimes just the tip of the iceberg, just symptoms of a modern-day sick society? Maybe. I don’t think Rotten is trying to draw up battle lines and encourage us to despise all big business, everything is dictated by supply and our demand after all. The series wants to expose the food industry and properly inform us about our role as consumers, and it succeeds. Netflix’s Rotten will give you pause before you next lift your fork to your mouth.

Second year English Literature student


16th March 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

The Digital Hash and Netflix