Who could have predicted that "Food, Inc.," the bold exposé of our industrial food system, might be an Oscar candidate? Although it didn't win, the film did hit the top of Amazon's bestseller DVD list. It wasn't the only food film of the year. Here's a quick stroll through the buffet line of others that reflect a distinct point of view.
"Fresh: New Thinking About What We're Eating" profiles the farmers, businesspeople, community organizers and gardeners who are reinventing our food system. Each has experienced the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model and dealt with the consequences: food contamination, pollution, depletion of natural resources, obesity. Each profile offers a practical vision for a future of our food and planet.
The most compelling character is Iowa family farmer George Naylor, who is "trapped in the middle" between his values and the use of farm chemicals. He shows the enormous impediment that commodity price supports are to making any real change and pleas for saner policies that support sustainable practices. "Fresh," distributed directly by producer Ana Sophia Joanes, has been shown in more than 200 cities (in Minneapolis, it drew more than 1,000 people to three showings). www.freshthemovie.com
"Food, Inc." argues that a few corporations that control our nation's food supply put profit ahead of consumer health and safety, the environment and farmers' rights. The highly mechanized factory farming system brings us "cheap" big-breasted chickens, perfect pork chops, herbicide-resistant soybeans and tomatoes grown to be shipped 1,500 miles. In the movie, Michael Pollan (author of "Omnivore's Dilemna") and Eric Schlosser (author of "Fast Food Nation") speak, and segments are shown inside cattle operations and slaughterhouses. "Food, Inc." showcases the harrowing effects on our nation's health when a low-income inner-city dad with Type II diabetes faces the choice between a fast-food burger and a head of broccoli, both the same price. www.foodincmovie.com.
"What's On Your Plate?" follows two middle-school girls who are intent on discovering why their New York City school isn't serving healthful, good-tasting food. They interview a range of adults -- a cafeteria cook, chef, science teacher, City Council president, farmers market manager, CSA organizer and farmer. They also grow vegetables in their apartment window boxes, work in a farm field for a family that sells produce at the Union Square Green Market, and learn to cook. This sunny, brilliantly animated flick is a great pick for families and schools. www.whatsonyour plateprojectorg.
"Big River," the companion to "King Corn," a Peabody-Award winner, follows the filmmakers, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, as they investigate the environmental impact of their earlier project, which was growing an acre of genetically modified corn. On their journey downriver, flashbacks to the pesticides and fertilizers they used and the soil they plowed lead them to understand topsoil and chemical runoff and their effect on the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. www.bigriverfilm.com
"Ingredients" shows chef Alice Water's Chez Panisse kitchen in Berkeley, Calif., during the dinner rush. Meet the farmers who raise her lamb, artichokes, baby lettuces and heirloom carrots. Woven through the shots of organic gourmet fare and dreamy fields are interviews with the community organizers and policy professionals who have created sustainable landscapes on the West Coast. "Eating food with your family and friends that is locally grown, sustainably farmed, this is what people have been doing since the beginning of time. This isn't a fad," Waters notes. This insider's peek into the Mecca of contemporary American gastronomy will send you to the farmers market and then to the stove. www.ingredientsfilm.com
"Food Fight" shows Alice Waters and several notable chefs waxing poetic about the flavors of local, fresh, organically grown food and details Waters' quest to source it. Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition, provides much of the nutritional and policy back story about the dangers of industrially produced food and its effect on our health and the environment.
"Who would have guessed that the taste of vegetables would turn out to be the start of a revolution?" Nestle asks. www.foodfightthedoc.com.
Who would have guessed it might lead to so many films?
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking teacher.