Until the last diabetic puts down his last Big Mac, there will be justification for movies fighting the good-food fight, a battle “Fresh” wages with considerable appetite. Hardcore foodies will already know much of the information imparted via Ana Sofia Joanes’ good-looking docu, which has a ready-made audience among anti-corporatists, animal-rights activists and people who’d simply like a little more reason to stop poisoning themselves — which, as the film makes clear, is all too easy to do. Pic opens April 9 for a limited run in Gotham.
Covering much of the same ground as last year’s Oscar-nominated “Food, Inc.,” and with several of the same people testifying to the gruesome state of agriculture and American food commerce, “Fresh” points up, among other things, what a race docu-making is. The woeful condition of our eating isn’t any one person’s issue, but originality is often credited to whomever can get their film out fastest, and with the most amount of publicity. (Deborah Koons Garcia’s “The Future of Food” came out in 2004, covered many of the points included later in “Food, Inc.” but didn’t have the same PR juice.)
Where helmer Joanes does fall short is in making “Fresh” too much of a cheerleader for fresh meat and vegetables, rather than a reasoned argument on behalf of the food revolution it so enthusiastically wants to ignite.
But while the film may be doctrinaire, it isn’t shrill. There are even moments of dry mirth: Two chicken-raisers are identified only as Mr. and Mrs. Fox, but that’s not the funny part. (Neither is the fact that their little dog looks as ill as their chickens.) What’s funny is the way they try to rationalize their way out of the agricultural crimes they’re committing by foisting hormone-enhanced, antibiotic-treated poultry on an unsuspecting public: It’s the good feed that makes them grow so fast. It’s the breeding. It’s the wonderful conditions (meanwhile, workers dumping buckets of live chicks on the barn floor look like they’re bailing out a boat). Both Mr. and Mrs. Fox look vaguely guilt-ridden.
And they should, according to “Fresh.” Animals raised for food, as most attentive viewers realize by now, are treated abominably by U.S. food conglomerates. As explained by charismatic sustainable farmer Joel Salatin (“Food, Inc.”), corporate cows are fed grain when they should be fed grass; the result of such tampering with nature is a breakdown of health all along the food chain. Salatin’s animals, fed what they’re supposed to eat and kept in a place where they can do what they were intended to do (run, for instance), look a lot more appetizing than the industrial livestock Joanes shows us on the factory farms.
But the atrocities aren’t restricted to fauna. “Nature doesn’t like monocultures … sooner or later, she’ll destroy them,” says noted food writer Michael Pollan, pointing to the reliance of so many American farmers on so few crops (mostly corn and soybeans). What Pollan also does, and what doesn’t seem to have been done before, is argue against our current food system as a national security issue: Because so much control of the nation’s food supply is in so few hands (three firms, he says, process all the beef in the country), a calamity for one or two could easily become a disaster of national proportions.
“Fresh” often feels like a lecture with pictures, and Joanes’ decision to profile several individual food activists — such as 6’7″ urban farmer Will Allen, or Ozark Mountain Pork Coop founder Russ Kremer — feels a bit formulaic. But they help make a tough message palatable, and the issues always feel urgent.
Production values are good, particularly Valery “Lali” Lyman’s camerawork.