Thursday, June 12, 2014

Food and Farming Documentaries for You


Perhaps it has something to do with my being an avid eater, writer of a food blog, and an educator.  Whatever the reason might be, I need to confess that I cannot seem to get enough of food-oriented documentaries!  Food, Inc., Forks over Knives, A Place at the Table were just a few of the titles in this category that I have seen recently.  Now, my Amazon Instant Prime “recommends” food documentary titles for me based on my previous viewing history.

So it came to be that I spent three evenings this week watching more food documentaries.  Since I’ve already spent that time, I thought that maybe I would offer brief reviews in this space, so that others can choose which ones to watch.  (Each heading title is a hyperlink, so you can be directed to the Amazon page that describes the movie.)

Sunday: Fresh

This might have been the best of the three I saw this week.  Though its 2009 production date meant that the movie was quite a few years out of date, this documentary delivered some searing images.  (Beakless and clawless chickens, the famous images of staggering cows suffering from mad cow disease, etc.)  Michael Pollan—whose Omnivore’s Dilemma seems to have lifted him to such a level of fame that every food documentary wants him on camera—is one of the experts in the movie, along with the likes of the farmer-with-a-neat-vocabulary Joel Salatin who was featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma and who has since also starred in American Meat (2013). 

There’s a certain datedness in the visuals of the documentary—a bit grey with some graininess—but the information it imparts about the perils of mono-crops and increasingly sinister reach of near-monopoly in big agri-business is worth viewing.

Monday: Ingredients

This 2011 movie is the slickest of the three I watched.  It might have been the one that is most enjoyable to watch since, as it was described by Amazon, it offered an uplifting narrative about the ways in which French-inspired chefs like Alice Waters and the committed earnestness of small organic farmers might actually be able to lift Americans out of the clutches of obesity-producing and pesticide-ridden big agriculture. 

In fact, the film had such great shots of bucolic multi-crop countryside and mouthwatering produce-laden restaurant dishes that it could qualify as farm-and-food porn.  The Bebe Neuwirth-narration actually was a bit jarring (since it was hard not to think of Lilith), but this film might be the one I’ll watch with someone who actually wants something feel-good.

Tuesday: Greenhorns

This 2013 entry felt more like an amateur production—well, because it actually was, I think—and this would fill nicely the Indie-documentary-about-small-farming niche (if one existed).  The narrative voice here was also a bit grating, not because of the famous intonations of the speaker but more so because hers was clearly not a famous or a well-trained voice.  The earnestness of the movie overall is winsome though.

Greenhorns traversed the country interviewing 18, 19, and 20-something independent farmers (sometimes doing as little as 2 acres of farming) about the trials and tribulations of their chosen vocation.  These are clearly very committed young people, and you do root for them.  You also get a sense though that they will be able to lift themselves up and dust themselves off and be able to find jobs in industrial design or pharmacological management should they fail at farming.  I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

The Verdict


All in all, I’m glad to have seen all three movies.  Fresh was informative and thoughtful; and Ingredients waxed poetically--and with beautiful images--about the virtues and benefits of farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture.  (Photo above shows one of my weekly CSA bundles.)  Greenhorns might not be for everyone, but I think Will and I need to take heed.  After our trip to the south of France, Will has visions of operating a 5-acre vineyard in Languedoc-Rousillon region (like the photo at top of post).  We need to get our eyes opened quickly about the labor involved in what is sure to be a lot of work. 

In fact, all three movies conveyed quite clearly this common theme: farmers work really really hard, all the time.


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