Thanksgiving: a time for family, food, more food and for some, football. But for those of us who aren’t interested in football but still keen to sit on the couch and watch TV while digesting our turkey, there are a number of recent food-related documentaries that are both entertaining and provocative.
Our Daily Bread, the 2006 documentary by Austrian Nikolaus Geyrhalter, is an elegant, unblinking look at the European food production industry. Made without narration, music or talking heads, the film presents beautifully composed scenes — from the killing floors of poultry factories to the symmetrical, endless farming fields — that reveal where modern food comes from.
If you haven’t yet seen Morgan Spurlock’s Academy Award-nominated Super Size Me, and want to feel a little bit better about all the turkey and vegetables you just ate, you might want to add it to your queue this holiday weekend. The film begins with a jaw-dropping proposition: What would happen if Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days? The results, as you might expect, are not so good. In addition to gaining almost 25 pounds, the McDonald’s diet caused possible permanent damage to his liver. The film raises deeper questions about the fast food industry, the high obesity rates and the diet of many Americans. Super Size Me, while compelling, may not be for the faint-of-heart, or the McDonald’s bound.
The Future of Food by Deborah Koons Garcia investigates the rise of genetically modified (GM) foods in America. Starting with the patent process and ending up on grocery store shelves, the film is a muckraking exposé on the corporate, scientific and health issues around GM foods.
Monteith McCollum’s quirky, poetic Hybrid tells the story of Milford Beeghley, a 94-year-old Midwestern farmer who was obsessed with cross-breeding corn in the early part of the 20th century. A loving portrait of an eccentric character, Hybrid premiered on POV in 2002. McCollum and his wife, Ariana Gerstein, have recently finished another food-related documentary called Milk in the Land: Ballad of an American Drink.
Aaron Woolf’s King Korn is also about corn, but in this case, best friends Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis move to Iowa to plant one acre of corn, America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain. Along the way, they discover more about the foods we eat, how we farm and the pervasiveness of corn in our lives.
And finally, what’s turkey without a glass of wine? Mondovino, by Jonathan Nossiter, takes a look at the globalization of the wine industry. Nossiter, a former sommelier at New York’s famed Balthazar restaurant, portrays the battle between homogenization and individuality, with wine consultants and large vineyards on one side, and small, old-style vintners on the other.