What happens when an adventurous mayor of a small town in France decides to introduce local, organic produce into the school cafeteria? I was curious, so I headed off to a screening of Food Beware, which had its NYC debut last week.
Ten minutes into the documentary I was convinced that I was about to sit through a French version of Food, Inc., which hit American theatres this past summer. Fifteen minutes I was proven wrong. The main voices of the documentary are almost exclusively those of the town’s residents, lending it a tangible degree of “humility” and the “personal” which other films in the food-doc genre (Food, Inc. included) are missing, in my opinion.
The film is shot predominantly in the idyllic town of Barjac in the Languedoc-Rousillon region (NE of Avignon) in Southern France. The progressive mayor, along with the school district’s central kitchen chef, embarks on an experiment to shift the district’s school food to an entirely organic menu. The result is that the kids love it. But, the parents love it too, and the local farmers, and a few local business owners, and… You can see where I’m going with this: there is a ripple-effect throughout the town’s families and economy. Even the local Meals-On-Wheels program is overhauled.
Aside from the school experiment, upon which the film centers half of its attention, the other focus is on the farmers and citizens who call the Languedoc their home. The region is bread basket and wine country. We see the stark difference between the soil tilth of an organic vineyard with that of the scorched and eroded landscape of a neighboring one. We see farmers gearing up and riding through their orchards to spray toxic chemicals. Underscoring these scenes are conversations with the peach farmer who becomes sick from his use of pesticides and whose own children suffer from genital deformation, and a mother of a child who died of leukemia, who’s doctors can only explain was caused by environmental factors.