Because I’m pretty much a complete foodie, it makes sense that at some point this obsession would show up in my Netflix Instant queue, too. Here are a few of the titles I’ve found thought-provoking and helpfully educational lately.
Deconstructing Supper, a 47-minute long quick film from 2002, follows restaurateur John Bishop as he somewhat charmingly begins his own research after finding himself bewildered at questions he receives from customers about Genetically Modified Organisms, organic foods, and the origin of the products he serves in his restaurants.
Part of what I enjoyed about this film was his utter beginners’ approach to these issues. He talks to activists, yes, and farmers (both organic and corporate), but he also talks with scientists (including those on the payroll of genetic giant Monsanto) and journalists who have researched these issues.
Of particular note are the scenes in which he cooks one completely organic meal (which looks delicious), and one meal that is entirely made of genetically modified foods (horrific, in my opinion). He’s not unfair to the genetic foods market, but – as so many researchers are discovering today – he ultimately arrives at the conclusion that organic foods are, in general, the way to go.
Food Matters, filmed in 2008, is an interesting film because I think, at the heart of it, it advocates intuitive eating – though it also advocates eating educated.
It, too, tackles GMOs, but it also discusses the benefits of eating raw foods – which everyone from your nutritionist to your running coach would probably agree with.
I also learned the alarming statistic that only 6% of graduating medical doctors in the U.S. receive any kind of formal training in nutrition, which, considering how directly what we put into our bodies affects our bodies, is pretty alarming. Ultimately, I felt like this film was definitely pushing a message: put good things into your body and treat yourself well, listen to your body when the alarm bells go off that a food isn’t doing you any favors, and you’ll enjoy much more optimal health. As a person who has watched several family members (blood and in-law) reverse adult-onset Type 2 Diabetes through optimizing their diet and engaging in moderate exercise, I personally find the message of this film appealing, and confirmed by personal experience. Not that I believe doctors are ignorant and ought to be ignored, but merely that I believe we bear the burden personally of becoming nutritionally educated and making wise and powerful decisions for ourselves.
Finally, How to Cook Your Life follows Zen practitioner and cook Edward Espe Brown as he conducts seminars on zen and the art of cookery. This movie was such a sensual treat: all the talk about being present in your cooking, giving your hands good work to do – it made me want to go knead some dough. (I was also pleased to see Mr. Brown demonstrating proper kneading procedure, so that was lovely.) Though I am not a student of Zen, I respect very much the salient intersection of zen and food care.
Of particular interest to me was the teaching that you are responsible for caring for the food that comes through you, and treating it with respect. Spiritual ideas aside, as a cook I understand the value of not damaging my food while I shop for it, purchase it, bring it home with me, store it, and eventually use it. This film talked a lot about not treating food just as fuel for the human machine, but as a sustaining force in your life that deserves respectful handling. Too, I believe this kind of respectful handling results in good tasting food. And that’s important. I enjoyed what one person in the film said: “When you cook, you are not just working on food. You are working on yourself; you are working on others.” This, combined with the film’s teaching that a good cook has a kind mind, a joyful mind, and a large (or broad) mind, summarized well for me what I already believed about cooking at its essence: that it is a communal act. That it is a physical manifestation of the joy and compassion and hospitality in your heart. That it matters.
And maybe, at the heart of it, that is what all three films were about: whether discussing GMOs with a restaurateur who finds himself bewildered in a new generation of food politics, or investigating the positive benefits of raw foods with a nutritionist whose life’s work is to help people enjoy good health through the things they put into their bodies, or whether it is following a Zen master as he teaches the art of making simple, delicious bread, all of these films share one central idea: the food you eat matters. Not in a guilt-inducing, fear-mongering way. But it matters: it is matter, it becomes your matter, and it can have the most glorious effect on you. Enjoy.