Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fresh: The Movie

Last Thursday night, I saw Ana Sofia Joanes's documentary Fresh at an advance screening in Cambridge. The screening was followed by a panel talk that included the filmmaker; two of the "characters" from the movie, Joel Salatin and Will Allen; Cambridge City Council member Henrietta Davis; and Chef Michael Leviton of Boston's Lumière Restaurant. Fresh shares much with Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. The subject matter and perspective are quite similar. Both the film and the book address the problems with grain and meat agribusiness, and present sustainable alternatives. Beyond that, Michael Pollan appears several times in the film, and Joel Salatin, who is profiled deeply in The Omnivore's Dilemma, is also profiled in Fresh. This overlap between the film and the book was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the film broke no deep new conceptual ground for me. It often felt like more of the same. On the other hand, I feel very aligned with Pollan's and Joanes's perspectives, and it's great to have another able artist join the party, especially one who is so good at capturing the color and genius of her subjects. It was inspiring to learn about the urban farming work of MacArthur Fellow Will Allen in Milwaukee, and his organization Growing Power. I was struck by his energy, vision, purpose, drive, and contagious enthusiasm—not to mention his awesome presence. Joel Salatin, a maverick family farmer from Virginia and a sustainable farming celebrity (due in part to his appearance in The Omnivore's Dilemma), had a completely different, low-key energy, but was similarly visionary, inspiring, articulate, and incisive. Michael Pollan spoke with the authority, vision, and conceptual clarity that one would expect, and more of his personality came across to me on camera than did in his books. It was great to see Allen and Salatin at the panel afterwards, along with Joanes, without whom none of us would have been there; Davis, who is a huge ally of real food in Cambridge politics; and Leviton, whose humility and commitment to food sustainability made me want to visit his restaurant. Fresh is an excellent introduction to food sustainability for those who aren't already drinking the kool-aid. It has the potential to reach many people who would never pick up a 400+ page book. The more tickets it sells, the more theatres will show it, the more publicity it will get, and the more people will question the problematic food status quo. So let's make Fresh the next Fahrenheit 9/11!

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