34 Movies and Series to Inspire During COVID-19
By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Howell
While COVID-19 is exposing fundamental flaws in the global food and agriculture system, it is creating the opportunity to reimagine honoring farmers and food workers and producing healthy, nutritious food. The virus is forcing people to press pause on their daily lives, so Food Tank has compiled a list of 34 movies and series to watch from home that remind us of the power of food.
This list may serve as a guide to help you learn about large- and small-scale agriculture, the relationship between diet and health, and the social and cultural implications of the food system. But these movies and series also offer hope. They show how individual choices can foster connections between people, and they may even inspire you to advocate for a more equitable food system during and after the pandemic.
1. 10 Billion – What’s on Your Plate? (2015)
By 2050, the global population is expected to hit 10 billion. This documentary from German film director Valentin Thurn looks at how we could feed that world. The film explores food production and distribution, analyzing potential solutions to meet the enormous demand on the global agriculture system. The most-viewed film in German cinemas in 2015, "10 Billion — What's on Your Plate?" provides a broad look into the issues in current food production and offers a glimpse of hope through innovation.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube
2. Always Be My Maybe (2019)
"Always Be My Maybe" is a romantic comedy that follows a successful chef named Sasha as she reunites with her childhood best friend as an adult. During her stay in San Francisco to open a new restaurant, Sasha, played by Ali Wong, and her old friend rediscover their connection though eating, and she remembers the influence her friend's family had on her love of cooking. "Always Be My Maybe" shows Sasha's journey as she falls in love and reconnects to her Asian American culture.
Where to watch it: Netflix
3. A Tale of Two Kitchens (2019)
"A Tale of Two Kitchens" is about two restaurants — Cala in San Francisco and Contramar in Mexico City — owned and operated by acclaimed Mexican chef Gabriela Cámara. The film tells the stories of the restaurants' staff, alternating between personal accounts and shots of employees interacting with customers and preparing meals. "A Tale of Two Kitchens" offers an inspiring look into how people find personal and professional growth in the restaurant industry and how restaurants can become second homes for those that work in them.
Where to watch it: Netflix
4. Barbecue (2017)
Embarking on a journey across 12 countries, "Barbecue" tells a story of the culture behind grilling meat and how it brings people together. The film offers a portrait of those who stoke the flames, showing that barbecue is not just about the meat, but about the rituals, stories, and traditions that surround the process. "Barbecue" won the James Beard Award for Best Documentary in 2018.
Where to watch it: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
5. Before the Plate (2018)
Filmmaker Sagi Kahane-Rapport documents John Horne, Canadian chef and owner of the prestigious Toronto restaurant Canoe, as he follows each ingredient from one dish back to the farm they came from. "Before the Plate" offers a look into what it takes to grow and distribute food and the issues farmers face in today's food system.
Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video
6. Caffeinated (2015)
Working with coffee connoisseur Geoff Watts, this film explores the life cycle of a coffee seed, following the process from bean to mug. The film focuses on the social and cultural landscape around coffee and how it shapes the lives of thousands of individuals worldwide. "Caffeinated" filmmakers interview coffee farmers, roasters, and baristas to provide a comprehensive idea of all that goes into a cup of coffee.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play
7. Cesar Chavez (2014)
"Cesar Chavez" is a biographical film that reconstructs the emergence of the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s. The film focuses on Chavez, co-founder of the UFW, whose commitment to secure a living wage for farm workers ignited social justice movements across America. The film inspired a "Follow Your Food" series by Participant Media and the Equitable Food Initiative as well as won an ALMA Award for Special Achievement in Film.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
8. Chef Flynn (2018)
"Chef Flynn" tells the story of Flynn McGarry, who became famous after running a fully functional kitchen in his bedroom at age 10. The film chronicles McGarry as he outgrows his bedroom kitchen and sets out to join New York City's innovative culinary scene. With a focus on the relationship McGarry has with his mother, "Chef Flynn" shows how far McGarry was able to go with the support and dedication of his family.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Hulu, Google Play, YouTube
9. Chef’s Table (2015- )
From David Gelb, the filmmaker that created "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," comes "Chef's Table," a series that profiles professional chefs around the world. Each episode of "Chef's Table" spotlights a different chef as they share the personal stories that have inspired their culinary ventures. The series has won a variety of awards, including a James Beard Foundation Award and an International Documentary Association Award.
Where to watch it: Netflix
10. Cooked (2016- )
"Cooked" is a series based on Michael Pollan's book by the same name. In each episode, Pollan focuses on a different natural element — fire, water, air, and earth — and its relationship to cooking methods throughout history. "Cooked" brings together different aspects of cooking to show its ability to connect us all as human beings.
Where to watch it: Netflix
11. Dolores (2017)
"Dolores" documents the life of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the first farm workers union, United Farm Workers (UFW). Filmmaker Peter Bratt chronicles Huerta's life from her childhood in Stockton, California, to her work with UFW and becoming a leading figure in the feminist movement. Huerta has often not been credited for her equal role in establishing UFW; "Dolores" argues this is because Huerta is a woman, and the film strives to spotlight her heroic efforts in the fight for social justice.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube
12. Eating Animals (2017)
Based on the 2009 book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, filmmaker Christopher Quinn examines factory farming and its associated negative environmental and public health effects. "Eating Animals" spotlights farmers, activists, and innovators who are raising awareness about where our meat comes from and standing up to big companies to tell their stories.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Hulu
13. Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2017)
In the 1940's, New Orleans' food and drink business generated less than US$1 million a year; today it is a billion-dollar industry that attracts tourists from around the world to the city. Many credit the transformation to the Brennan family, guided by Ella Brennan. "Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table" tells the story of Ella Brennan and how she revolutionized creole cuisine and helped push it into American mainstream dining culture.
Where to watch it: Apple TV, Commanderspalace.com
14. El Susto! (2020)
"El Susto!" tells the story of a sugar tax in Mexico, implemented in an attempt to curb the prevalence of diabetes. The film documents the battle between public health activists and the corporate wealth of the "Big Soda" industry, offering a look into the reality of challenging powerful industries. The film premiers this May as part of the virtual Vermont International Film Festival.
Where to watch it: VIFF virtual cinema
15. Farmsteaders (2018)
"Farmsteaders" follows Nick Nolan and his family as they try to resurrect his grandfather's dairy farm in Ohio. Once a thriving agriculture economy, Nolan's rural community has given way to the pressures of agribusiness and corporate farming — left with unused fertile farmland, abandoned buildings, and skyrocketing health issues. "Farmsteaders" gives a voice to a new generation of family farmers, showing the hardships those who grow our food are having to endure.
Where to watch it: POV – link through movie website
16. Fed Up (2014)
Filmmaker Stephanie Soechtig and journalist Katie Couric investigate the role of the American food industry in rising obesity rates and diet-related diseases. "Fed Up" uncovers the sugar industry's influence on American dietary guidelines and argues that hidden sugar in processed foods is the root of the problem. With the tagline "Congress says pizza is a vegetable," the film shows how interactions between industry and government can directly affect the health of the nation.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play
17. Food Chains (2014)
Supermarkets' buying power and farm contracts often set the substandard wages and conditions farm workers face. To improve their livelihood, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers demanded a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. But Publix, Florida's largest grocery chain, refused. "Food Chains" follows farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, as they prepare for and launch the resulting hunger strike at Publix headquarters. The documentary aims to expose the exploitation of farm laborers and the complicity of corporations in the creation of conditions the filmmakers liken to modern-day slavery.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Tubi, YouTube
18. For Grace (2015)
"For Grace" tells the story of renowned chef Curtis Duffy as he builds his dream restaurant, Grace, at a difficult time in his personal life. Filmmakers Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski offer a look into each step in opening the luxury dining spot, Duffy's troubled past, and how he came to seek refuge in the kitchen. "For Grace" gives a bittersweet look into the restaurant industry and the sacrifice it requires.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV
19. From Scratch (2020)
"From Scratch" follows chef, actor, and producer David Moscow as he travels worldwide making meals from scratch. Each episode begins with a chef presenting a dish that Moscow then has to hunt, gather, forage, and grow each ingredient to recreate. "From Scratch" reveals the overwhelming amount of work that brings each part of a meal into the kitchen.
Where to watch it: FYI
20. In Our Hands (2017)
This one-hour documentary takes viewers on a journey across the fields and farms of Britain. "In Our Hands" discusses diversity of the land, the importance of generational knowledge, and the need for innovation to create a more sustainable food system. A project by Black Bark Films and the Landworkers Alliance, the film advocates for sustainable methods and the rights of small producers through a feminist lens.
Where to watch it: Vimeo
21. Just Eat It (2014)
"Just Eat It" explores the enormous amount of food waste that exists in the supply chain – from farms and retail to an individual's home. The filmmakers pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discarded food for six months. Featuring interviews with food waste experts and food writers, "Just Eat It" exposes the systematic obsession with perfect produce and confusing expiry dates that has ultimately cost billions of dollars in wasted food each year. The film has received multiple awards from film festivals across North America.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Tubi, Google Play
22. Maacher Jhol (2017)
A Bengali film directed by Pratim D. Gupta, "Maacher Jhol" tells the story of a Paris-based chef returning to his home in Kolkata after 13 years. Challenged to cook a bowl of fish curry, a quintessential Bengali dish, the film shows the master-chef return to his roots and reconnect with his family.
Where to watch it: Netflix
23. Polyfaces: A World of Many Choices (2015)
"Polyfaces" documents the Salatins, a fourth-generation farming family, who moved from Australia to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the United States to practice regenerative farming. The film follows the family for four years as they operate Polyface Farm without chemicals and provide food to 6,000 families within a three-hour radius. "Polyfaces" shows how working with nature, not against it, is a way to reconnect to the land and to the community.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video
24. Rotten (2018- )
Zero Point Zero and Netflix combined to produce "Rotten," a series that highlights the problems in the process of supplying food. With a human-centered narrative approach, each episode focuses on one food product, interviewing manufacturers, distributers, and others involved in the process. "Rotten" reveals the corruption, waste, and dangers involved with eating certain foods.
Where to watch it: Netflix
25. Salt Fat Acid Heat (2018)
"Salt Fat Acid Heat" follows chef and food writer Samin Nosrat as she travels the world to explore the core principles of cooking. Based on Nosrat's New York Times bestselling book of the same name, Nosrat uses each episode to travel to Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the United States, where she began her culinary career. "Salt Fat Acid Heat" helps the audience learn about each element of cooking and how to incorporate them into their own recipes.
Where to watch it: Netflix
26. SEED: The Untold Story (2016)
A winner of 18 film festival awards, "SEED: The Unknown Story" follows the story of farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers in their fight to defend seeds from the control of biotech companies. The film highlights the importance of the seed in the future of our food and presents a heartening story about the efforts to reintegrate an appreciation of seeds into our culture. "SEED" features Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jane Goodall, Andrew Kimbrell, Winona Laduke, and Raj Patel.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
27. Soul of a Banquet (2014)
"Soul of a Banquet" shows the journey of Cecilia Chiang and how she introduced America to authentic Chinese food. Chiang opened The Mandarin, her internationally renowned restaurant in San Francisco, in 1961 and has since greatly influenced the culinary scene in the United States. Through interviews with Chiang as well as Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl, the film documents Chiang's life in Beijing, her move to the United States, and how she became a restaurateur.
Where to watch it: Hulu, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon Video
28. Sustainable (2016)
"Sustainable" investigates the economic and environmental instability of the current agriculture system and the actors in the food system who are working to change this. The film presents the leadership and knowledge of some prominent sustainable farmers around the United States, like Bill Niman, Klaas Martens and John Kempf, who are challenging the country to build a more ethical agriculture system. The film offers a story of hope, with a promise that our food system can be transformed into one that is sustainable for future generations.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube
29. That Sugar Film (2014)
"That Sugar Film" looks at the impact of high-sugar diets on an Aboriginal community in Australia and travels to the United States to interview the world's sugar experts. When director Damon Gameau decides to test the effects of sugar on his own health, he consumes foods commonly perceived as healthy, revealing the prevalence of sugar in each item. The film documents how sugar has become the most dominant food in the world, infiltrating both our diets and culture.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, Documentary Mania
30. The Biggest Little Farm (2018)
"The Biggest Little Farm" follows John and Molly Chester for eight years as they transition from city living to a 200-acre farm. Directed by John Chester, the film shows the couple start Apricot Lane Farms and follows the farm's expansion to include multiple animals and fruit and vegetable varieties. Through their work, the Chesters find that the importance of biodiversity extends far beyond the farm.
Where to watch it: YouTube, Google Play
31. The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (2018)
Director Maya Gallus profiles seven female chefs as they face obstacles in a profession dominated by men. "The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution" shows how the culture of restaurant kitchens has bred toxic working conditions and how women are working to change it. Through the women's stories, the film documents the greater challenges female chefs face as they attempt to rise to the top of the restaurant industry.
Where to watch it: Tubi, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Video
32. The Lunchbox (2013)
"The Lunchbox" tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a lonely housewife and a widower. The housewife, played by Nimrat Kaur, decides to prepare her husband creative, elaborate lunches, sending them along with a note through the famously complicated Mumbai lunch delivery system. The lunchbox ends up with the wrong man, played by the late Irrfan Khan. The housewife recognizes her mistake and sends Khan another note to apologize, starting a conversation between the two and sparking a relationship as they discuss life's joys and sorrows over the exchange of delicious meals.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play
33. Ugly Delicious (2018- )
"Ugly Delicious" combines travel, history, and cooking as award-winning chef David Chang takes the audience on a journal to culinary hot spots around the world. Each episode explores one dish or concept and tells the story of how it is made in different regions and how it has evolved over time. Chang brings guests, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Kroll, and Peter Meehan, to join him as he celebrates different cultures through food.
Where to watch it: Netflix
34. Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (2017)
Executive-produced by the late Anthony Bourdain, filmmakers Anna Chai and Nari Kye aim to change the way people buy, cook, recycle, and eat food. "Wasted!" not only explores the effects of systematic food waste on the environment, but also offers potential solutions. The film follows some of the world's most influential chefs who create dishes from typically discarded items and features success stories from around the world. These efforts try to show the audience that any action, no matter how small, can contribute to the fight against food waste.
Where to watch it: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, Vimeo
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- How to Deal With Cabin Fever - EcoWatch ›
- 3 New Documentaries to Watch While Quarantined This Earth Day ... ›
- Food Tank’s Summer 2020 Reading List - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- What Does 'Recovered From Coronavirus' Mean? - EcoWatch ›
- Black and Hispanic Americans Suffer Disproportionate Coronavirus ... ›
- As Trump Pushes U.S. to Reopen, Internal Document Projects 3,000 ... ›
In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
- British Queen Praises Young Climate Activists in Christmas Speech ... ›
- Homeland Security Listed Climate Activists as 'Extremists' Alongside ... ›
- 'We Have So Much More to Do': Youth Climate Activists Declare as ... ›
By Jake Johnson
The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Construction Begins on Keystone XL Pipeline in Montana - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Approves Keystone XL Pipeline, Groups Vow 'The Fight Is ... ›
- Judge Tosses Major Keystone XL Permit - EcoWatch ›
- Zombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic - EcoWatch ›
- Siberian Forest Fires Increase Fivefold in Week Since Record High ... ›
- Rewilding the Arctic Could Slow the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- 'Unprecedented' Wildfires in Arctic Have Scientists Concerned ... ›
By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
- 5 Tips for a More Earth-Conscious Wardrobe - EcoWatch ›
- World's Largest Fashion Sustainability Summit to Drive Responsible ... ›
- Will America's Love for Cheap Clothing Doom the Sustainable ... ›