'Ingredients' takes aim at food giants


POSTED: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lush with rolling, green hills dotted with free-ranging sheep and flourishing crops punctuated by the vibrant oranges, purples and reds of ripe produce, director/screenwriter Robert Bates' “;Ingredients”; articulates visually the fecundity of possibility for America's food system. The documentary travels coast to coast — from California and Oregon to Ohio and New York — to offer a comprehensive view of the local food movement that's taken hold nationally.

The film offers the viewpoints of farmers, chefs, activists, educators and scholars who discuss looming issues of food security in the United States and demonstrate how the growing, selling and consuming of food raised within a 100-mile radius promotes food sustainability, supports local economies and nurtures the environment.

“;Ingredients”; also delivers the bad news about our current farming system, which it defines as “;agribusiness.”; Based on scientific advances, agribusiness was born during the age of industrialization to feed the masses. The paradigm of agribusiness is big business, relying on the use of chemicals in the fields and fossil fuels to transport food hundreds of miles from where it grows.

“;We didn't realize we were growing food. It was a commodity. There was a big disconnect there,”; says Bob Jones Jr., owner of the Chef's Garden in Huron, Ohio, whose family farm nearly folded under the agribusiness model. Jones has revived the farm using a sustainable model.





        Green Screen (HIFF world premiere)

 Screens at 6 p.m. Friday and 3:45 p.m. Saturday at Regal Dole Cannery as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival




“;Now I care for the soil, not the client. I realize that I'm producing food,”; he says. “;I understand the greater responsibility to folks putting that food on the table and feeding their children.”;

The soil of Jones' “;microfarm”; functions as its own ecosystem, producing fruits and vegetables that “;have better flavor, more nutrition, a longer shelf life and higher antioxidant levels. There's no downside.”;

The film also profiles such restaurants as Nostrana in Portland, Ore., where chefs adapt their menus daily to whatever fresh-picked produce Sheldon Marovitz brings from his farm, Your Kitchen Garden.

“;The vegetables drive the restaurant,”; says chef Cathy Whims. “;Why buy outside if something's grown here?”;

In New York City, surplus produce is taken to the inner city, where it's sold at bargain prices to people who otherwise have virtually no access to fresh food.

LACK OF fresh food in the American diet reflects the darkest facet of the U.S. food system, which the film says is controlled by a handful of big companies that deliver processed and fast foods, and a message that food should be inexpensive. The film connects processed foods to the problems of childhood obesity and diabetes, and the fact that for the first time in history, our children's life expectancies are shorter than our own.

“;No culture in the world spends less on food per capita and more on medicine,”; says Greg Higgins, of Higgins Restaurant. “;The painfully obvious truth is we can pay the doctor or pay the farmer.”;

And it doesn't seem that even self-education is enough. According to Will Newman of Oregon's Sustainable Agricultural Land Trust, farmable land is disappearing at the rate of 1 million acres a year. Yet the world's population continues to grow; population will be a projected 400 million in 2040.

“;There are more people to feed and less land to farm,”; Newman says. “;At some point those lines will cross, and it will be impossible to keep feeding people.”;

There's no getting around the grim statistics. Yet “;Ingredients”; is effective in its mission of sharing its perspective without leaving its audience cynical. Gorgeous cinematography and engaging storytelling keep the journey enjoyable, and it's hard to take issue with the successes the film chronicles. If anything, the film offers too much education; it's difficult to retain so much information in one sitting.

In the end the film leaves viewers hopeful and upbeat, albeit pensive. And in achieving that delicate balance, “;Ingredients”; can be deemed a success.