Anyone who grew up eating school lunches in America is probably suffering a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, so there’s a sizable and sympathetic aud out there for “Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution,” in which a French mountain village goes organic to save its residents’ lives. Grimmer in its statistics and dryer than “Food, Inc.” and “No Impact Man,” this dire warning about the state of corporatized agriculture, which opens Friday in Gotham, will have to overcome an unfortunate title and competition from this year’s other nutrition-oriented titles, though it’s a natural for the crunchy crowd.
The term “good food” is considered by many to be synonymous with France, so it’s strange that in the world capital of cuisine, the farming practices are literally killing the population. Cancer rates have skyrocketed in the country’s Languedoc-Roussillon region; mortality is up, fertility is down. As prominent U. of Paris oncologist Dominique Belpomme tells the U.N. Food and Agriculture conference that bookends the film, there isn’t any question about the deadly effects of pesticides and the French farming model. The real problem is a lack of political will.
With this in mind, the mayor of the Renaissance town of Barjac makes a more or less unilateral decision that the local school will go organic, and “Food Beware” takes a grassroots view of a mini-food revolution as the entire town transforms into a hotbed of healthy eating.
There are a few transitional snafus, and some villagers balk at the higher prices. Overall, though, what helmer Jean-Paul Jaud portrays is a town empowered by its rejection of fast food and the shadow of big business at the dinner table, choosing instead a locavore philosophy and a greater stake in an environment in which 30% of global warming is attributable to nutrition (via the transportation of food).
Big Food lobbyists could probably punch holes through many of “Food Beware’s” testimonies: Who are these people? What are their agendas? Viewers have to go with their gut instincts, but the people Jaud talks to all ring true: the parents of kids with leukemia, the farmer who won’t eat the food he grows because he knows what goes into it (and on it). There’s a lot of heartache in “Food Beware,” some about the past, and more about the future: As endocrinologist John Peterson Myers tells that U.N. conference, children today will make up the first generation ever that isn’t healthier than its parents, and “that should not be.”
Jaud makes rather obvious use of the beautiful French children who gambol about Barjac.Sometimes he overdoes it: A birth that occurs with a glorious dawn breaking over the mountaintops is the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie.
Tech credits are all fine, especially the HD camerawork of lensers Joel Pierron and Ammar Arhab.