September 20, 2012

You Eat With Your Eyes

I haven't been in the kitchen much this week.  Wife made a lasagna that fed us for days on end, and my friend Grasshopper arrived in town to visit us before he heads off to Germany for the winter.  With my time consumed by shots of Old Crow and card games, I haven't so much as baked anything; my kitchen duties have been limited to making sack lunches and pouring bowls of cereal.  Still, it isn't like I haven't had food on my mind--more specifically, the interesting selection of food-based films available for streaming on Netflix.
The first selection is "The Botany of Desire," based on the Michael Pollan book of the same name.  "Botany" isn't purely about food--it features marijuana and tulips in addition to apples and potatoes--but that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it.  The PBS film explores the way that plants have taken advantage of human desires to propagate their species.  (1 hour 54 minutes.  Also available in its entirety on You Tube.)
Speaking of Micheal Pollan, the film "Fresh" by Ana Sofia Joanes is an exploration of the food system and the people who are attempting to fix it, including Joel Salatin, who featured prominently in Pollan's other book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma."  According to The Holy Kale,  what separates "Fresh" from the other food documentaries out there is its focus on action; while many movies of its kind make it seem like the agricultural companies have won, "Fresh" is a call to action in a battle that is still ongoing. (70 minutes.)
One such movie is "King Corn," which follows two friends who plant an acre of corn and try to follow it from their plot of land to the dinner table.  Along the way they discuss feed corn, subsidies, and high-fructose corn syrup.  This Independent Lens feature is also available on Hulu (1 hour and 30 minutes.)
A perhaps better known example is FOOD, INC., which takes on the food industry as a whole.  From e-coli being spread to spinach by the run-off waste of factory farming to the way chemical companies have altered seeds to keep from naturally reproducing, this movie touches on the dark side of what we eat in a very effective way.  My son was in the room the other day as I watched this, and it was clear that what we have chosen to accept as a society was still terrifying to somebody morally pure.  Although this film falls more into the category that causes despair, they do have a website where you can learn more and perhaps take action.  (1 hour 33 minutes.)
"Food Matters" covers a lot of the same ground as "Food Inc," but while the former is more about the negatives of processed foods, this film focuses on the value of whole foods--the other side of the coin.  (1 hour 17 minutes.)
"Food Fight" and "Forks Over Knives" also have a lot in common with the other documentaries above, but while "Food Inc." and "Food Matters" take on various social issues, these two movies are primarily focused on obesity and health.  "Forks Over Knives" can be found on Hulu as well as Netflix, and has a website devoted to healthy eating.  (Food Fight: 1 hour 11 minutes.  Forks Over Knives: 1 hour 36 minutes.)
Other socially conscious food documentaries on Netflix:
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (About the benefits of juicing.)  
Save the Farm (The effort to save America's largest urban farm.)
Fed Up! (More anger at modern food production.)
Ingredients (Focused on the local food movement.)
Deconstructing Supper (Analyzing genetically modified foods.)
What's on your Plate? (A look at the politics of food in schools.)
Food Beware (An organic revolution takes place in a French town.)
But not all food documentaries on Netflix are concerned with the politics of food.  "I Like Killing Flies" is the profile of eccentric restaurant owner Kenny Shopshin, who has been a New York fixture for decades, and is well-loved in spite of his temper.  (1 hour 18 minutes.)
The documentary "Fat Head" is a rebuttal to the film "Super-Size Me," which featured documentarian Morgan Spurlock only eating McDonald's for a month.  Tom Naughton was annoyed with the lack of science in Spurlock's film, so he exists on a diet of only fast food for the same length of time, but his health is fine, unlike the drastic issues Spurlock had with his body.  An interesting companion piece.  (1 hour 44 minutes.)
"I've never seen so many strong men sobbing at once," was UK newspaper The Guardian's response to this documentary about the most intense pastry competition in the world, where French chefs battle it out to win a striped collar and set their reputations for life.  The contest is so demanding that even qualifying to be one of the sixteen participants in a given year takes a two year process.  (84 minutes.)
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" profiles a sushi master whose $300 a plate meals and 10-seat diner are famous throughout the Tokyo food community.  This film is more about the love of one's craft than food, and Jiro is an inspiration whether you love raw fish or not.  

These are just some of the many food-related films on Netflix, and I didn't even touch on fictional films involving cooking.  There are certainly worse ways you could spend the evening.  See you next week.  

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