A great harvest of food movies screening in Minneapolis

Tracy Singleton
Tracy Singleton owns the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis. She says there is a growing interest in food issues in the Twin Cities. She is sponsoring screenings of "Fresh" after she met one of the people profiled in the film
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Michael Pollan has been advocating a re-examination of our food system for years in his books such as "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food." But he said things are about to move to another level - or at least the local movie house with a slew of films.

Some of the films listed by Pollan were "Food Incorporated" which is coming out in June, "Fresh" which is about the foods system, and "Nourish" which is going to be on public television in the fall. Pollan said he thinks that these films are going to expand the conversation quite a bit.

Kasper and Pollan
Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Michael Pollan after a recent interview
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

So why all this interest in food all of a sudden? Filmmaker Ana Joanes thinks there are many reasons.

"Food is incredibly intimate," Joanes said. "I mean some of our strongest childhood memories are about food. It's so much part of our culture and family life."

The New York-based filmmaker directed "Fresh," which is being screened tonight at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis and then across town tomorrow at the Riverview Theatre. "Fresh" is the result of two years of work, talking to advocates from the real food movement. Joanes said industrialized food production poses a threat to food safety and community health.

"I mean my business is up significantly over last year.There's not a lot of restaurants can say that and I think it's a testament to the interest in local foods and people paying attention to what they are eating."

"We have an obesity crisis. We have a diabetes crisis," she said. "Apparently one in three children are going to develop type II diabetes and in some communities it's one in two children."

Joanes said food has become a social justice issue. Her film features Will Allen, a former pro basketball player who now runs a farm in the middle of Milwaukee. In the film Allen states his goals. "That everybody has access to healthy sustainable food, that we don't say that only rich people can afford it," he says.

Fresh is being screened in the Twin Cities at least in part because of Allen. He runs seminars as part of his operation. Tracy Singleton, owner of the the Birchwood Cafe in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, heard him speak. She was so inspired she is sponsoring the screenings at the Riverview. She said it fits right in with her restaurant's mission.

"Our tagline for the Birchwood is good real food," Singleton said.

The Birchwood works with local organic farmers and cooks all its food from scratch. Singleton said she does it because she believes the food is better, and wants to build a sense of connection between the people who supply her cafe and the people who eat there. She said it's clear the community wants it too, even in the economic downturn.

"I mean my business is up significantly over last year," she said. "There's not a lot of restaurants can say that and I think it's a testament to the interest in local foods and people paying attention to what they are eating."

Will Allen
Former pro basketball player Will Allen now runs aGrowing Power Community Food Center, and urban farm in Milwaukee. He is featured in 'Fresh'
Image courtesy of 'Fresh'

Singleton has been running the Birchwood for almost a decade and a half, and she says all the people in the local food movement are reporting real change going on around them.

"Where the sentiment and the movement and the energy is at now in the Twin Cities, I think a movie like this could be a real jumping off point to the next level," she said.

Singleton admits the food issue is actually so complicated she's not sure what that next level would look like.

Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper said while there's always been a cyclical interest in food films, the times do seem to be creating extra interest at present.

"Food's always political" Kasper said. "It always has been political."

Kasper said that's particularly true with the bad economy.

"All of our antennae are up right now," she said. "Money is of prime concern, security is a prime concern, we no longer trust our government, we no longer feel protected in terms of the safety of our food."

But Kasper said people should understand there was never a time when food was entirely safe.

Kasper said she hopes the films will encourage a true debate about an immense subject involving everything from culinary custom to agricultural policy.

"I think there will be a dialogue," she said. "I want to see it encouraged though. I want to hear from the people who believe those pesticides and those fertilizers are necessary. Whether or not you believe in it is one thing. But understanding it is another. There was a time when those pesticides and fertilizers were the greatest blessing those farmers ever had."

That discussion may begin tonight and tomorrow with the panel discussions after the screenings of "Fresh."

And if documentaries aren't your thing consider the much anticipated "Julie and Julia." It's got Meryl Streep playing Julia Child in a film about the young woman who tried to cook every recipe in one of Child's books in a year.

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