This past week I had the chance to go see a screening of the movie “Fresh” at a local brewery (Schlafly’s). It was presented by the St.Louis chapter of Slow Food International. It was described as the sequel to “Food Inc”, and I’d been wanting to see it for while. If you haven’t seen either film, I’d highly recommend both. They’re similar in the sense that they both hit the same major points: Interviews with Michael Pollan (author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”) and Joel Salatin (owner of Polyface Farms and author), unsettling hidden camera footage of CAFO’s and meat packing plants, portraits of farmers trapped in the industrial agriculture system, and breakdowns of just how unhealthy and unsustainable the American diet is. There is, however, a noted difference in the focus of each movie as well.
“Food Inc” is primarily a scathing indictment of our modern food system. It spends the bulk of the film exploring the nutritional, environmental, and ethical shortcomings of how we get our daily sustenance. Monsanto’s role in promoting GMO’s and monopolizing of the seed industry is condemned (something that has provoked a rather vehement response from Monsanto). There’s a heart-breaking scene involving a woman who became a food safety advocate to congress after the death of her son due to tainted meat. Over all, it’s a pretty bleak picture. Salatin’s Polyface Farm and the corporate organic dairy Stonyfield Farms (which is owned by Dannon corporation) are held up as two examples of how things can be improved, but the thrust of the movie is more heavily on what’s wrong with the system.
“Fresh” starts off with a condensed version of much of the material that is covered in “Food Inc”, but it then shifts to highlighting examples of people who are working to change the system. Polyface Farm is again featured, and rightfully so. Salatin has positioned himself as one of the chief spokespeople for small-scale, diversified, ecologically sensitive agriculture. He’s developed a fantastic system, and his passion for what he does is clearly evident when he speaks about his farm. The Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative, a collection of small-scale pork producers in Missouri and The Hen House Grocery Stores in Kansas City are also featured. The highlight, for me though, was Will Allen’s Growing Power organization in Milwaukee, WI.
Will Allen is a former professional basketball player who began Growing Power in the early 90’s on 3 acres in urban Milwaukee. Since then, it has grown into a network of city farms that cultivate something like 100 acres in Milwaukee, and they’re expanding into Chicago. Will is putting together an organization that grows food, teaches skills, and builds communities. While I don’t think that there is one, right solution to the problems that we are facing, Growing Power is certainly on the right track.
As I said, I enjoyed both films. Neither one really presented me with much new information. I had already read books by Pollan and Salatin. I was familiar with the local food movement. Mostly it was neat to see an issue I was interested in and passionate about presented in an engaging and entertaining format. However, if the only people who see these films are those who are already committed to changing the status quo, then not much is going to change. We need to use movies like these to introduce our friends and family members to this very important issue. In that respect, I think “Fresh” might be more effective at persuading otherwise uninterested people. “Food Inc” is full of good information, much of it likely shocking to folks who haven’t given their food much thought. However, I think “Fresh” does a better job of showing the problem, and then giving lots of inspiring examples of alternative systems (and without alternatives, you’re just bitching into the wind).
So go get some snacks that you grew yourself, invite some friends over, and watch something that will spark more thoughtful conversation than 90% of what comes out of Hollywood these days. It might just be the start of a meaningful change in your community.