Food Fight



If one has been in hibernation for 30 years and missed the revolution, Chris Taylor's "Food Fight" makes a good, breezy primer on how the California food movement created a healthy alternative to agribusiness. The film efficiently sums up a lot of cultural and culinary history while scarcely disguising its advocacy of local, sustainable and organic foods. It's pretty old news to anyone out of hibernation, but at least it is all here, summed up nicely in a quick 83 minutes.

The problem with all docs of this nature is that they wind up preaching to the converted. The best hope is that the film, after a brief festival tour, finds its way into TV programming where kids who live off of junk foods can have their eyes opened. For it is an incontestable fact that our federal government's farm policy has directly fueled an epidemic of obesity and diabetics.

Taylor interviews Alice Walters, the creator of Berkeley's famed Che Panisse restaurant and his heroine; food journalists Russ Parsons and Michael Pollan; farmer Will Allen; and famed restaurateurs Suzanne Goin and Wolfgang Puck to trace the evolution of good eating in America.

Of course, once upon a time, good eating was a given. But World War II and the need for K Rations to feed armies stretched around the globe led to TV dinners and other "convenience" foods after the war. Then came Taylor's villain -- Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz. His determination to drive profits up in that sector resulted in farm subsidies and policies that favored cheap corn, soybeans and junk food over such "specialty crops" as fruit and vegetables. His legacy is still very much with us.

In broad strokes, Taylor situates the food revolution in the '60s counter-culture. More specifically he zeros in on Waters in Berkeley, who literally catered the rallies and gatherings by the political left. Her mantra was good-tasting food. From there the search for flavor lead to local farmers rather than food shipped long distance to supermarket chains. This then lead to farmers markets and to the movement for sustainable and organic foods.

Says Waters: "85% of cooking is finding the best ingredients."

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