By Eva Perroni
Film is an incredible tool for effecting change in the food system with its unique ability to educate, inspire and grow the movement for sustainable food and farming. Film can transport viewers to unseen territories, from Colombian coffee-growing regions to the bottom of the ocean, and unveil the stories, struggles and triumphs of those working in the hidden fabric of the food system.
Powerful films can help spark worldwide awareness and debate on some of the most pressing food and agriculture issues, as well as reinforce and reenergize environmental and sustainability activism efforts. Food Tank has curated a list of 18 recent food films that inspire, outrage and mobilize.
1. A Place at the Table
A Place at the Table investigates the issue of hunger in the U.S. and how it affects nearly 50 million American lives. The film follows the stories of three people suffering from food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother, Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader with several health problems. With appearances by Jeff Bridges, Raj Patel, chef Tom Colicchio and many other food activists, the film demonstrates how the problem of hunger can be solved once and for all if the American public and government mobilize to make healthy food available and affordable for all citizens.
A film two years in the making, Blue travels across Indonesia, the Philippines, Hawaii and Australia to capture stand-out ocean and marine life stories. Featuring passionate advocates for ocean preservation, Blue explores subjects such as industrial-scale fishing, marine habitat destruction and species loss, and the world's plastic pollution problem, diving deep into the issues that are driving mass ocean change around the globe. A combination of investigative journalism, underwater cinematography and public awareness campaign, Blue both documents and encourages a global movement to save the world's oceans.
Bugs follows chefs and researchers Josh Evans, Ben Reade and Roberto Flore from the Nordic Food Lab around the world as they explore how to forage, farm, cook and taste insects. Film director Andreas Johnsen traces their journey across Europe, Australia, Mexico, Kenya, Japan and beyond to learn from some of the two billion people who eat insects worldwide. Throughout their experiences and conversations in the field, the lab, at farm visits and international conferences, the team explore the possibilities and challenges for scaling-up insect production.
Focusing on the social and cultural components of the coffee supply chain, Caffeinated takes viewers on a journey from the farmers responsible for growing a perfect bean to the roasters and baristas responsible for brewing a perfect cup. Working with one of the foremost green coffee buyers in the world, Geoff Watts, filmmakers Hanh Nguyen and Vishal Solanki travel to leading coffee producing countries and America's most populous coffee-drinking cities, interviewing farmers, researchers and connoisseurs alike. Caffeinated reveals that farmers are the lynchpin to the more than 1 billion cups of coffee enjoyed each day and affirms the necessity for sustainably produced coffee beans.
Dolores tells the story of lifetime activist Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside Cesar Chavez for better working conditions for Latino farmworkers and women's rights. Directed by Peter Bratt, the documentary chronicles Huerta's time with the United Farm Workers union—which she co-founded with Chavez in the 1960s—and the racial and economic injustices she experienced in California's agricultural Central Valley. It also captures Huerta's key achievements, including her central involvement in a national grape boycott and the historic farmworkers march to Sacramento in 1966, as well as receiving The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012.
Farmland takes an intimate look at the lives of six young American farmers and ranchers, all of whom are under the age of 30 and responsible for running their farming business. Director James Moll travels across the U.S. to profile those who have not only carried on their family's profession for generations but are also at the forefront of a new era in American agriculture. The documentary, made with the support of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, aims to tell the farmers' side of the agriculture production story, detailing the high-risks and high-rewards inherent in getting food from farm to fork.
7. Fed Up
Narrated by Katie Couric, Fed Up is an American documentary film focusing on the causes of obesity in the U.S., and the government's role in both its prevention and spread. The film traces the history of processed foods, the dangerous and increasing levels of sugar and sweeteners that have been added to them over time, and their contribution to childhood obesity and diet-related disease. It also follows the rise of the major companies and players in the sugar industry, pointing to the lobbying power of Big Sugar in blocking and influencing policies and regulations for sweetened food and drinks.
8. Home Flavored
Written and performed by young poet Monica Mendoza, this short film is a powerful and poignant portrait of how soda and snack food companies impact the lives of Latino families in the U.S. A fusion of slam poetry, cultural anthropology and advocacy, Home Flavored hopes to spark a conversation about the epidemic of obesity and diet-related disease. The film won Real Food Media's 2016 Food and Farming Short Film Competition.
9. In Our Hands
From Black Bark Films and the United Kingdom's Landworkers Alliance, In Our Hands documents the growing movement of farmers and food workers who are creating alternate, sustainable and healthy models for food production and distribution in the UK. The documentary explores the quiet revolution of farmers working to build a food system that will bring health back to the soil, a fair wage to the farmer and more nutritious food for all. Designed to be an open source tool and resource for farmers and activists, In Our Hands aims to inspire and educate about the movement for a fair and sustainable food system.
10. Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent explores the life and career of Jeremiah Tower, one of America's first celebrity chef-restaurateurs. The film follows Tower's career from its start at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1972, to the launch of his own Stars Restaurant in San Francisco, one of America's top-grossing U.S. restaurants. Featuring interviews by Anthony Bourdain, Ruth Reichl and Martha Stewart, this documentary highlights the controversy, influence, and rise and fall of one of the leading figures in American gastronomy.
11. Kale vs. Cow: The Case for Better Meat
In Kale vs. Cow (forthcoming), podcast and blog author of Sustainable Dish, Diana Rodgers, questions whether a healthy, sustainable and conscientious food system can exist without animals. Focusing specifically on beef production and consumption, this documentary probes the fundamental moral, environmental and nutritional quandaries humans face in raising and eating animals. Kale vs. Cow focuses on personal stories of people who are involved in better meat production while demonstrating that naturally produced meat can be part of a healthy, sustainable and ethical diet.
12. Kiss the Ground
Kiss the Ground (forthcoming 2018) delves into the lives and work of passionate scientists, farmers, ranchers, chefs, activists and policymakers working to save the world's soils and drive a global movement towards a regenerative agriculture. The documentary explores how soil, when properly cared for, has the potential to sequester carbon dioxide and help mitigate against climate change. Kiss the Ground empowers people to choose a diet that not only delivers better health and wellness but also helps rebuild one of the world's most precious resources—soil.
13. Life in Syntropy
Made especially to be presented at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, this short film highlights the benefits of a regenerative farming system called Syntropic Agriculture. Developed by farmer and researcher, Ernst Gotsch, Syntropic Agriculture mimics the natural regeneration of forests, integrating food production with soil recovery techniques. Life in Syntropy documents the range of ecological and agricultural possibilities of syntropic farming, showcasing successful examples from Brazil.
14. Peter and the Farm
A portrait of 68-year-old Vermont organic farmer, Peter Dunning, Peter and the Farm reveals the trials and tribulations of devoting one's life to farming. Showcasing Dunning's picturesque hilltop farm in Vermont, the film quickly captures Dunning's external and internal struggles of running a 187-acre farm on his own. Documenting Dunning's battle with alcoholism, depression and the loss of most of his family and friends, Peter and the Farm presents the lived-in reality of organic farming from a darker, yet insightful angle.
15. Plant This Movie
Narrated by Daryl Hannah, Plant This Movie explores the evolution and growing impact of urban farming around the world, including the success in Havana, Cuba to projects in Shanghai, Calcutta, Addis Ababa, London and Lima. In the U.S., the film features innovative projects in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Berkeley and Portland, including the largest rooftop garden in the world and other local efforts such as student-run CSAs. Featuring leading urban farming advocates, Plant This Movie affirms that healthier, locally grown food, can be produced almost anywhere.
16. SEED: The Untold Story
SEED: The Untold Story follows passionate seed savers and activists protecting the world's 12,000 year-old agricultural legacy. The film charts a David and Goliath battle as seed libraries, community gardens and a new generation of young farmers come up against the large, corporate chemical companies that now control the majority of the world's seeds. Featuring a wide range of interviews with prominent environmentalists and researchers, such as Vandana Shiva, Jane Goodall and Raj Patel, as well small-scale farmers indigenous communities from across the globe, SEED educates audiences about the importance of seed biodiversity for the future of the world's food supply.
Sustainable investigates the social, economic and environmental issues of America's food and agriculture system and what must be done to sustain it for future generations. Spanning the country, the film draws on recommendations from farmers, restaurateurs and policymakers detailing how to move away from industrial and factory farming and find better, more sustainable ways to produce and source food. "Sustainable" was awarded the 2016 Accolade Global Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Achievement and has screened at more than 20 film festivals around the world.
18. WASTED! The Story of Food Waste
From chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain, WASTED! The Story of Food Waste explores both the problem of food waste in the U.S. and possible solutions from around the globe. The documentary features renowned chefs and food leaders, including Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura and Dr. Judith Rodin, who demonstrate potential ways to help solve the food waste problem, as well as policy approaches from countries such as France, Italy and South Korea, that aim to curb food waste. Through telling the story behind food waste, "WASTED!" aims to change the way people buy, cook, recycle and eat food.
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By Marion Nestle
The food and chemical industries are lobbying hard against what is expected to be a tough report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report will set an upper limit for safe consumption of dioxins.
Most Americans consume dioxins at levels higher than this standard, mostly from food. About 90 percent of dioxins come from foods, particularly high-fat animal foods.
Dioxins mainly enter the food chain as by-products of industrial processes. To a lesser extent, they also come from natural processes such as volcanoes and forest fires. They contaminate land and sea, are consumed in feed, move up the food chain, and end up in the fatty parts of meat, dairy products and seafood.
Dioxins accumulate in fatty tissues and they increase the risk of human cancer more than any other industrial chemical.
The EPA is expected to recommend an intake limit of 0.7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram body weight per day. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram. The World Health Organization and European Union limit is higher—from 1 to 4 picograms per kilogram per day.
The food and chemical industries argue that the proposed EPA limit is too low.
The EPA thinks less is better. Dioxins are toxic and Americans typically consume amounts within the European range. A single hot dog can contain more dioxin than the proposed limit for a 2-year-old.
Dioxin levels in the U.S. have been declining for the last 30 years due to reductions in man-made sources, but they break down slowly and persist for a long time in the environment.
How to avoid them? The best way is to eat less high-fat meats, dairy foods and seafood. No wonder the food industry is alarmed.
A “Food Industry Dioxin Working Group” of trade associations such as the International Dairy Foods Association, the American Frozen Food Institute and the National Chicken Council wrote to the White House:
Under EPA’s proposal…nearly every American – particularly young children—could easily exceed the daily RfD [reference dose] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack…The implications of this action are chilling.
Since the agency contends the primary route of human exposure to dioxin is through food, this could not only mislead and frighten consumers about the safety of their diets, but could have a significant negative economic impact on all U.S. food producers.
These groups singled out the media for particular blame:
The media will inevitably report on this change and in all likelihood misinterpret the RFD as a ‘safe limit’. As a result, consumers may try to avoid any foods ‘identified’ as containing or likely to contain any dioxin.
Eat more fruits and vegetables anyone?
Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) is urging the EPA to get busy and release its report:
The American public has been waiting for the completion of this dioxin study since 1985 and cannot afford any further delays…A baby born on the day the EPA completed its first draft health assessment would be 27 years old today. I’d like to see the final EPA analysis before it turns 28.
Let’s hope the EPA does not cave in to industry pressure and releases the report this month as promised.
Dioxins collectively refers to hundreds of chemical compounds that share certain structures and biological characteristics. They fall into three closely related groups—the chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs), chlorinated dibenzofurans (CDFs) and certain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The most studied is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). PCBs are no longer produced in the U.S.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.