Over the next few weeks I've invited my colleague David Manly to write some reviews of films he's screened as part of the 'Planet in Focus' film festival in Toronto, Ontario. Planet in Focus is Canada's largest environmentally-themed film festival, and the exceptionally successful event is currently in its twelfth season. This week David tells of his experience in screening Enjoy your meal! How food changes the world, by Netherlands director Walther Grotenhuis.
The film begins with a dinner party.
Imagine you are holding a dinner party for a group of your friends. To prepare, you go to the grocery store and pick up everything you need in one location, before storing it at home and beginning the cooking process. You peel, cut, chop and stuff a variety of foods to create great tasting, yet elegant, dishes.
But do you ever give pause and think: What journey did the food take to get to the plate?
That is what this documentary is about.
Grotenhuis, in his first independent documentary, focuses on the worldwide journey some foods experience to get to your local supermarket. In doing so, he addresses a fundamental flaw in uncontrolled agricultural expansion – the environmental impacts that over-cultivated crops and foods cause to the local ecosystems.
The film focuses on three specific foods and the effects they cause not only to the environment, but also to people – shrimp in the Philippines, soybeans in Brazil and sugar peas in Kenya.
In each of the explored countries, Grotenhuis interviews individuals from both sides of the globalization argument – those that profit and those that suffer.
In the Philippines, we meet a rich former banker who runs an extremely successful shrimp business utilizing artificial breeding pools. But, in building them, he destroyed the native habitat of fish and shrimp for local fishermen who depend on those for their livelihoods. The footage in Brazil shows farmers that buy forest property at unmonitored low prices and have no qualms about burning the forests down to make room for their fields, which is located right near an Indian tribe at risk of loosing its culture and way of life. And lastly, in Kenya, we are introduced to a huge sugar pea and green bean company that is a large boon to the local economy, but a huge drain to the most important resource to Kenya’s native people – water.
The most striking thing about Enjoy your meal! How food changes the world is that it is a fundamentally human story. While the severe environmental impacts are a backdrop, it is the profiled drama of the Indians, local farmers and fishermen who are hit hardest by the advances in globalization. But it also does not shy away from the biggest issue of all: With our ever-growing population, who else will feed the world?
But there are still issues with the 50-minute documentary.
The film, which can clearly be divided into thirds, does not transition from one segment to the next as well as it should. As well, the chefs that are shopping for the dinner party ingredients throughout the film are never properly introduced or characterized. Greater insight into why Grotenhuis chose to follow these particular chefs for this party would have been appreciated.
However, the narration by Grotenhuis is excellent and the locations he visited were stunning. There is an obvious bias towards the stereotypical “little guy,” such as the local farmers or fisherman, but it is not too blatant. The characterization of the big business owners in the Philippines and Kenya are more stereotypical, as they are painted as profit-hungry idiots, but for such a film as this it, it is hardly a surprise.
But the take-home message is as strong as they come.
Next time you are in the supermarket, take a look at where your year-round fruits, veggies and meats come from. You may be surprised if it has travelled significantly farther than you to reach your dinner plate.