The movement toward fresh, local, sustainably produced food is one of the best things to happen to this country in recent years. It means healthier kids and adults, less obesity and all of the issues that spring from it, and less impact on our environment. It turns out that obtaining more of what we eat locally is the best way to fight climate change.
But here's the problem. It can be an elitist movement. There is a snobbery and sometimes a militancy around good food that can be off-putting. Some of the writing and the films produced around this movement reduce it all to a simple story of enlightened good guys against the evil corporations that are poisoning us and the planet while they're at it. I don't know about you, but that Michael Moore style is wearing thin for me.
That's why Dianne and I enjoyed Food Patriots so much when we saw it at the Wisconsin Film Festival. Filmmakers Jeff Spitz and Jennifer Amdur Spitz have just the right touch. The film documents their suburban family's efforts to plant a garden and raise chickens in their own backyard while choosing healthy foods at the grocery store.
They approach the issue with humor and humility. There's no preaching or self-righteous boasting about heroic efforts to actually enjoy kale. They're just a middle-class suburban family trying to figure this stuff out. It's the kind of approach that lots of Americans can relate to, and so it has a chance of reaching a lot more people than a diatribe would.
I especially liked the way they handled a visit to a large farm in Illinois. While it had all the markings of a factory farm, the Spitz's interviewed the family that owned it, and they came off as sympathetic, intelligent people just trying to make their business work. Because they weren't demonized, you got a sense that they were trying to figure all this out too. The scene had what makes all good films memorable: nuance.
Here's a trailer for it.
Food Patriots has lots of local ties. We ran into former Mayor Joe Sensenbrenner and his wife Mary Ellen at the screening. Joe has been active in creating the Badger Rock Middle School on the city's south side, and he is a board member of the Center for Resilient Cities, both of which are featured in the film. And that's only a part of what Joe and Mary Ellen have done for Madison quietly over the last couple of decades.
The film could not have happened without the generosity of Jay and Renee Knight of the Bradshaw-Knight Foundation. They are two of Madison's most innovative philanthropists. They live in my neighborhood and not only keep chickens, but have the most artistic chicken coop I've seen.