Sunday, February 7, 2010

Extra Helpings: Food Beware, The French Organic Revolution

When it comes to the films being shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art, it seems that luck has been on my side twice now. The last time I was in the museum for a film, it was to see Michael Ruhlman introduce Food, Inc. This time around, I again discovered only several hours prior to the screening that Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution was showing at 6:45 PM tonight. In both cases, I was fortunate enough (also known as, having no life) that I was free to drive up and see what the hubbub was all about. From the film's description on the Cleveland Museum of Art's website,

"This 'cheerfully one-sided film' (New York Times) shows what happens when the mayor of a French village decrees that all lunches in the school cafeteria will be organic and locally grown. 'The tone is gentle, the music French, and the food shot so delectably that you can all but smell the freshly baked bread' –Bob Mondello, NPR. Cleveland theatrical premiere. (France, 2008, color, subtitles, DVD, 112 min.)"

it seemed that at the very least I would be entertained and hopefully a little more enlightened. Thinking that this movie might be something some of my other Facebook and Twitter friends might find interesting, I sent out a notification to see if anyone else wanted to join me. I was fortunate to be able to meet up with fellow blogger and Facebook friend Andre to share the experience.

The basic plot line of Food Beware takes us to a small village in Barjac, France where the mayor and the rest of the city council decree that both the school lunch programs and the Meals on Wheels program for the elderly switch over to 100% organic produce, meats, dairy, eggs, and cheese. The majority of the story revolves around a single school year, showing the seemingly easy adoption of this new dietary regimen by the students, parents, elderly and farmers in the community. Sprinkled throughout the entire movie are vignettes of scientists and activists speaking to the causes of cancer, diabetes, and infertility due to the overabundance of chemicals used in the production of food.

To be quite honest, I didn't particularly care for this film. Not because I didn't get what the film was trying to say. I understand and embrace the notion of organic and sustainable farming. However, Food Beware turned out to be a nearly two hour propaganda-filled documentary that used a rather ominous technique of beating you incessantly over the head with its message that I would've gladly skipped had I known better. Between the children practicing and finally performing a song about the evils of conventional agriculture to the symbolic birthing of a new baby to a pesticide free world as the sun gloriously rises from the horizon, this film has no intention of letting you miss the message they are trying to promote. This repeated message slamming became so obvious and obnoxious, that I think it does a real disservice to the organic and sustainable food movements as I can't imagine anyone on the other side of the fence who would be swayed by it.

In addition to the gratuitous use of scare tactics in the form of statistics, every time one of those ominous numbers would show up on the screen, it was as if the person in charge of the film's score had decided to channel Wagner and his use of the leitmotif to make sure that the happy scenes had happy music and the bad scenes had scary, the killer is about to claim his first victim, brooding overtones to it. Once I recognized how the message was even being driven by the score, I tuned out even more.

At the end of the film, you see the results of the first year of 100% organic at a school concert. The mayor proudly states that he has gotten inquiries from five or six other cities, interested in doing something similar and using Barjac as an example. While I think that most people who watched this movie were definitely happy for the children and eldery folks in Barjac, sadly this film would not be a good medium for converting the uninitiated. Perhaps this movie plays differently to a European audience, but I have a funny feeling that anyone who is truly seeking answers to this complicated problem would rather have an intelligent movie that speaks to them in a way that allows them to come to a gradual and educated decision rather than feeling berated if you leave not agreeing with the primary tenet of the movie.

While I enjoyed several of the food scenes, it wasn't enough to save this movie for me. Some pro-organic supporters might be of the opinion that visibility at any cost is necessary. I found Food Beware not only not helpful, but hurtful to the adoption of the notion of an organic lifestyle by the common audience-goer. If you want to see an intelligent documentary about our current food agri-business, check out King Corn, Food, Inc., or Food Fight instead. Those films will give you much more food for thought without wishing that the classic Kevin Bacon moment from Animal House not keep repeating in your head, "Thank you, sir! May I have another?"


Mahala said...

What I like about your blogging is your innate fairness. I really appreciate a balanced and honest analysis and presentation of any subject, be it restaurant food or the state of agriculture today. I detest propaganda. Thanks, Tom, for the integrity of your blog.

Tino said...

@Mahala: Thanks for the compliment. After my last film experience at CMA with Food Fight, I fully expected to walk away liking this film. And I suppose in all fairness, this was a French movie made for a French audience. Perhaps it was a case of "Lost In Translation", but subtlety was the once characteristic this movie didn't convey.

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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