By Mimi DelGizzi
Director Chris Taylor, a Harvard alum, returned to Boston to celebrate this year’s first annual Food Day by screening his debut film, Food Fight at Boston’s Museum of Science. After graduating from Harvard in 1975, Taylor transplanted himself to the west coast, developing a career that extended from lighting design to TV directing. But Taylor realized he wanted more. He romped around Northern California for a while, documenting the food revolution happening there—the demand for fresh, local fare. After five years of recording, editing, and researching for the film, Taylor finally debuted Food Fight in 2008.
Food Fight is both an abridged history lesson and a political commentary on America’s history of food consumption and production. Opening scenes aim to sicken food enthusiasts as old-school advertisements for TV dinners market cardboard trays of gray mystery meat in congealed brown “sauce”. A commercial for a snack that helps kids “go and grow” reveals Hostess Twinkies as the magic energy food. A 1950’s housewife with bright pink lipstick seductively takes a bite out of some UFO (Unidentified Fried Object).
While the first half of the film navigates viewers through these now-shocking commercials for food products, the second half delves into political boundaries using the Farm Bill controversies as its framework. Taylor’s film effectively pulls at viewers’ moral heartstrings by revealing that fruits and vegetables are actually overlooked as “specialty crops” by the US government while the “big ones” that aren’t raised for human consumption —corn, soy, wheat, and cotton—get all the attention and subsidies.
Taylor uses the California food revolution as the paradigm for the push for America’s fight for better food. Chef Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant is the model for this movement in the film, promoting local, organic foods as a “right, not a privilege” for the American people instead of mass-produced food-like substances. The film is studded with sound bites from other well-known chefs and food activists like Wolfgang Puck, Marion Nestle, Dan Barber, and Michael Pollan. These faces give Taylor’s film the street cred it needs to compete with the many other food documentaries saturating our media.
“[This film] is a murder mystery,” Taylor explained to the viewers at the Museum of Science’s showing. “What happened to the taste in our food?” he asked. This is the question that Food Fight sets out to answer, but on the heels of numerous other food documentaries such as Food, Inc., Food Matters, and Forks Over Knives, Taylor’s documentary offers nothing new about America’s relationship with food. In fact, it seems to be the little brother crying, “Wait up,” as these other films gain fast popularity. The film reiterates the broken-record mantra of recent food documentaries: “America is fat, our food is tasteless, and it’s the government’s fault.” Oh, and if we don’t do something about it soon, we’ll all be eating Styrofoam peanuts in a few years.
While Food Fight does not offer any new or shocking information about America’s struggle for healthy, fresh food at every table, it does urge viewers to do something about it. “Vote with your forks,” the film urges. “Everyone has three votes every day”—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—to choose foods that are local, sustainable, and responsible. Easier said than done, methinks.
For more information or to check out the trailer, visit www.foodfightthedoc.com.
Michelina DelGizzi is an incoming student at the Friedman School. Her interests lie in community nutrition, public health, and the weaving of those two disciplines through writing. Though she misses the days of her childhood as a wanton consumer of Hostess Twinkies, she now knows better.