For this week’s post I decided to watch Ingredients, a documentary directed by Robert Bates. In a lot of ways, it was kind of similar to Food Fight, a documentary I wrote about in February. In short, it was about the way in which the industrial food system isn’t about maintaining or improving the taste or quality of food but rather about being as profitable as possible for big corporations, and how by eating seasonally and locally, farming sustainably, feeling connected with our food, and supporting small-scale farms the food system in the United States can be improved. It even included another interview with Alice Waters. Nothing I haven’t heard before, but overall I consider Ingredients to be a fairly good documentary with a lot of the same problems that almost all of the other food activism documentaries I’ve watched have had: a little hippie-elitist, a little one-sided, a little too image-focused, lacking in diversity. All problems that, in many respects, exist within the food activism movements in the U.S. as well. Ongoing issues for which there is no easy answer.
But something that made watching Ingredients a little different from watching Food Fight and other food activism documentaries that I’ve watched for this blog is that I’d just been reading a book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. It’s a chronicle of Reese’s experimentation raising chickens and goats in her suburban backyard, growing her own produce, canning, curing meat, making cheeses, baking bread, and making, processing, or growing a lot of other food items that most people in the U.S. are used to buying from a store.
I’ve already kind of been experimenting with these kinds of things myself, although on a much smaller scale: I have a sourdough starter fermenting in a crock on my kitchen counter, six pepper plants growing in pots on my back porch, homemade yogurt in the fridge, and a few weeks ago I pickled red onions for the first time. I make those things because I think it’s fun, and I love cooking and eating and sharing food with friends. Sometimes it makes a mess, sometimes things turn out weird or inedible, and sometimes things end up taking waaaaaaay longer to do than I have time for or than the end product is worth (case in point: pickled onions. Bleh.). They’re not always cost effective or necessarily healthier (although sometimes they are). I think that a lot of things I make taste better than their grocery store versions (case in point: sourdough bread and fresh, soft mozzarella cheese), but I acknowledge the possibility that this is at least partially accounted for by the feeling of accomplishment for having made them. And I do feel like making things from scratch makes me feel more connected with my food and more appreciative of the final product.
|An artsy photo of one of my successful|
Photo credit: my friend Martin Kaplan.
And I like that. I think that the importance of cultivating that kind of connection is a message that I’ve seen, and liked, in many of the food activism documentaries I’ve watched this semester. And there are a lot of different ways to cultivate that kind of connection—some people do it by planting or cooking from scratch, some people do it by knowing their farmer, others by maintain a plant-based diet, etc.I don’t know that any one of these approaches is better than the others, or whether or not it’s important to try to adopt all of the approaches, or how important it is to be strict about adhering to the one or more approaches that are important to you. I think iit depends on the individual’s views, interests, and resources. How they envision the best or most doable (for them) recipe for good food activism.
P.S.: Updates: last week I mentioned my pepper plant problems: I didn’t know whether or not the seeds were genetically modified, and I was questioning whether or not their potential GM-ness undermined the food activism piece of my motivation for growing an urban edible garden. I sort of didn’t want to know, because I thought I knew the answer. But I decided to look into it anyway. And guess what? They’re not GM. At least, as far as I can tell. This is on the home page of the seed company (Ferry-Morse) website:
Oh Ferry-Morse, I underestimated you. And the Texas retailer that sold your little pepper plant gardening kit. Sorry. But anyway, I’m pleased. I think I would have kept my pepper plants and joyfully eaten the peppers they (hopefully) produce whether they ended up being genetically modified or not, but I’m glad I got out of negotiating that dilemma. At least for now.