Posted on Mon, October 26, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
2 Comments | Categories: Film/TV/Radio, Policy, School Food,
What happens when an adventurous mayor of a small town in France decides to introduce local, organic produce into the school cafeteria? I was curious, so I headed off to a screening of Food Beware, which had its NYC debut last week.
Ten minutes into the documentary I was convinced that I was about to sit through a French version of Food, Inc., which hit American theatres this past summer. Fifteen minutes I was proven wrong. The main voices of the documentary are almost exclusively those of the towns residents, lending it a tangible degree of humility and the personal which other films in the food-doc genre (Food, Inc. included) are missing, in my opinion.
The film is shot predominantly in the idyllic town of Barjac in the Languedoc-Rousillon region (NE of Avignon) in Southern France. The progressive mayor, along with the school districts central kitchen chef, embarks on an experiment to shift the districts school food to an entirely organic menu. The result is that the kids love it. But, the parents love it too, and the local farmers, and a few local business owners, and You can see where Im going with this: there is a ripple-effect throughout the towns families and economy. Even the local Meals-On-Wheels program is overhauled.
Aside from the school experiment, upon which the film centers half of its attention, the other focus is on the farmers and citizens who call the Languedoc their home. The region is bread basket and wine country. We see the stark difference between the soil tilth of an organic vineyard with that of the scorched and eroded landscape of a neighboring one. We see farmers gearing up and riding through their orchards to spray toxic chemicals. Underscoring these scenes are conversations with the peach farmer who becomes sick from his use of pesticides and whose own children suffer from genital deformation, and a mother of a child who died of leukemia, whos doctors can only explain was caused by environmental factors.
The emphasis of the film is that not only can such a simple change in a schools menu have rippling effects, but that the conventional farming is whats hurting our children. As we are in the midst of our Time for Lunch campaign, these are talking points that run broken record-like around our office. This film lends a needed face to the discussion. Its French title is justly: Our Children Will Accuse Us. If we dont act (understood).
Admittedly, Food Beware is 100% French and is not a highly polished American-style film. There are schoolchildren singing a rallying cry about our environment going to hell, our ailing health and the need to create a better future typical socialist behavior (Im smiling as I type this. Im the office Francophile with an Eiffel Tower bicep tattoo). And Barjacs three small schools and fully-functional kitchen serving 250 organic lunches is not even comparable to, say, the NYC school system or even Pariss. But, the point is made abundantly clear: healthy school lunch is possible.
Other food docs have focused on the problems with our food system, and are notably lacking in their presentation of solutions or alternatives. Industry, corporations, and supply-side economics are the culprits in Food, Inc. In Food Beware, its obvious that the real culprits are us. This is a paysans education in food systems.