Sunday, October 11, 2009

Documentary FOOD BEWARE comes to theaters via FRF and Jean-Paul Jaud

Toward the beginning of this French docu-
mentary (made last year), in the midst of a European conference one of the speakers tells us that our pre-
sent generation of children is the first in modern history not to be as healthy as its parents. "That should not be," the speaker concludes, yet envi-
ronmentally-caused cancer is on the rise throughout Europe (many statistics are included in the film to back this up this statement). A listener then asks if any specific new evidence exists of the linkage between cancer and environment. The speaker tells her, yes, of course: There is always plenty of evidence. What is lacking is any political will. Sound familiar?

Progressive Americans -- call them liberals if you must -- often imagine that Europe is light years ahead of us in terms of environmental issues. FOOD BEWARE: THE FRENCH ORGANIC REVOLUTION (titled Nos enfants nous accuseront in the original -- or "Our Kids Will Accuse Us") raises the question of just how true this might be. France, so the movie tells us, has long been in bed with the manufacturers of pesticides and the chemical industry with results that can now clearly be seen in the rise of environmental cancer. What makes this seems particularly ironic and eye-opening is that Food Beware is set in the midst of the gorgeous French countryside, where one might expect organic everything -- from the produce to farming, fishing and sex. But as that old catch-phrase (mostly relegated to third-world travel) used to tell us: Don't drink the water. At least, not from every local stream, lake or reservoir.

The locale here may put you in mind of The Grocer's Son, were the food that the young man in that film was selling from his family's van particularly suspect (it probably was, as most of it appeared to be processed). But in the small provincial town of Barjac that this documentary visits, its Mayor has spearheaded a campaign to go as organic as possible, as quickly as possible. This Mayor is smart; he begins in the school cafeteria, and he knows he must get the local farmers on board, not to mention the local populace, for whom spending more money (organic food does seem to cost more) is difficult. One of the especially interesting and productive points the movie -- directed by Jean-Paul Jaud -- makes is that going organic involves politics, economics, sociology -- and things more personal.

As the movie tells us, moving to organic will mean a total overhaul of the agricultural model: You must be able to track and trace the food at every point along it way, from seedling through sale to the end consumer. The Barjac mayor arranges meetings, cajoles and cautions, and seems willing to make compromises toward his goal. A town meeting shows the influence of lobbyists and greed. "Don't listen to your accountant but to your conscience," notes one speaker, finally. Families discuss what they can and cannot manage: " We can't do organic meat or cheese yet," explains one mother, who's trying to do the right thing. The personal comes most clearly into focus when we meet -- sidelong and under wraps -- Camille, a Barjac student, via her mother, who tells us the story of this young girl, beautiful and bright, who early on came down with cancer, due most probably to the chemical sprays used all around the area. Camille has had operations that have left her face badly scarred and her psyche in worse shape. But at least she's alive. For awhile. We also hear from a woman and her husband; he sprays for a living but has constant nosebleeds post-spray; another friend cannot urinate for a week after spraying. Anecdotal? Sure, but it scares the hell out of me.

New Yorkers watching this film will no doubt think of our current Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, and how he managed to ban all smoking in restaurants and bars and then trans-fats in restaurants. He did this via a combination of power, purse, politics and persuasion. We may wonder whether he might try something similar regarding organic food. Unlikely -- as the job would be infinitely more difficult. Cigarettes and trans-fats are already perceived by the majority as something evil, whereas food is... food, right? And the differences between "normal" (not the correct word, of course, but one likely to be bandied about) and "organic" is going to take some heavy-duty education to get across to the general public. And then, of course, it will immediately be countered via the heat and misinformation circulated by the corporations who control so much of what America stuffs into its collective mouth. In France, change appears to be taking hold locally. I wonder if that scenario is even possible here? The local food co-operatives one heard about about a year or two ago seem to have taken a back seat of late.

In any case, Food Beware is a good start -- and a must-see for environmentalists, educators, politicians and the public interested in preserving what's left of our environment and health. The film opens this Friday, October 16, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. Distributed by First Run Feaures, it will surely be available soon on DVD, as well.
(All photos are from the film itself.)

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