Bad Date: Dinner and This Movie

O'Brothers organic burger joint is fantastic - just, not after a movie about slaughterhouses and cow feces.

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Here’s a bad first-date idea: Go to a movie about how corporations treat cattle poorly, slaughter them and wash the meat off with ammonia before selling it. Then, go grab a burger.

I did this—luckily it wasn’t a first date. Thumbs up for both the film (“Food Inc.”) and the restaurant (O’Brothers). Just, check them out on different nights.

“Food Inc.” is playing at the Landmark Theater in Hillcrest. Filmmaker Richard Kenner’s documentary is about the industrial food system in the United States. Kenner contends our food supply is controlled by just a handful of corporations that are toothlessly regulated by the government and often put profit ahead of public health and employee safety.

The movie includes commentary by authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pallan (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto). It trails food safety advocate Barbara Kowalcyk through the halls of Congress as she tells the story of her two-and-a-half year old son who died after eating a fast food hamburger tainted with E. coli.

“Food Inc.” also shows a farmer throwing dead chickens in a pile, cattle standing in their own feces before being slaughtered, and meat being cleansed with ammonia.

Wait a day before heading to Horton Plaza’s new burger joint called O’Brothers. It serves a 100-percent organic beef burger. Opened earlier this year by brothers Craig and Derek Cowling, O’Brothers aims to have everything on the table—the burgers, buns, condiments, beer, even the napkins—be organic.

In “Food Inc.” a Virginia owner/farmer decries the process of corn-fed farming. Corn is a cheap, but more fattening, feed ingredient. The Cowlings get their grass-fed beef from North Dakota.

To further embrace the “slow-food” or produced locally movement, though, the Cowlings plan to start buying Southern California grass-fed meat. It’s available at Homegrown Meats/La Jolla Butcher Shop. Owner Matt Rimel partners with the Mendenhalls, family ranchers based in Mt. Palomar.

O’Brothers is doing a strong lunch hour and has decent dinner crowds. Derek Cowling says Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Councilmember Dona Frye have stopped by for burgers. The menu includes a tasty Western burger (created by executive chef Matt Whipple), as well as ones made with chicken and veggies.

Derek Cowling has seen “Food Inc.” twice—he’s even gotten up both times to invite movie-goers to his restaurant. Don’t do it back-to-back. But if you do take the time to gain some insight on the American food system, you’ll soon start winding up in conscientious eateries like O’Brothers.

Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to and a contributing editor to His Web site ( is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.

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