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Films for foodies discuss eating and buying locally

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse

Partnering with the Color of Film Collaborative, the Haley House restaurant hosted a crowd of about 40 foodies and farmers for three short movies by local filmmakers about local food, and tasty pizzas featuring ingredients from a local farm.

First in the “Dinner and a Movie” lineup was “Know Your Roots: Eat Local,” produced by Tufts undergraduates Sara DeFrost and Scott Silverman. The well-produced film featured interviews with local food activists, farmers and chefs on the importance of the local food movement.

As the interviewees explained, humans have been “eating local” for tens of thousands of years — the entirety of human history — until after World War II, when the United States began to industrialize and globalize its food production.

“We built a food system that was efficient and cheap — but it wasn’t nutritious,” said JJ Gonson, chef at Cuisine en Locale in Cambridge. “And nobody thought to say, ‘This is food you’re talking about here, maybe it shouldn’t just be efficient and cheap.’”

Food loses its nutritional value the more it is processed and sits on a supermarket shelf. The nutritional value of frozen green beans, for instance, is much lower than ones freshly picked.

Even the “fresh” produce found in supermarkets is not exactly fresh, explained Jamey Lionette of Lionette’s Market. Raspberries, for instance, only have a 48-hour shelf life. But those found in supermarket produce sections are up to 10 days old — meaning most of their nutritional value has already disappeared.

 Moreover, the industrialization of America’s food system has taken a serious toll on the environment — huge amounts of energy are required to ship food around the world. Eating locally, however, reduces this gas mileage.

The second film, “Fresh,” by Ana Sofia Joanes, reiterated many of the same points.

“Cheap food is an illusion,” proclaimed Michael Pollan, famed author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” “The real cost of the food is paid somewhere, and if it isn’t paid at the cash register, it’s charged to the environment, it’s charged to the public person in the form of subsidies and it’s charged to your health.”

But “Fresh,” which opens June 18 at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, also focused on Will Allen, a former professional basketball player-turned farmer in Milwaukee, Wisc. Allen heads Growing Power, an organization that provides fresh, healthy and affordable food to inner-city residents through urban agriculture.

On three acres of land, Growing Power harvests fruits, vegetables and even fish, in a sustainable, chemical-free greenhouse-farm. For Allen, farming is as much about community as it is about food itself.

The film shows Allen leading Growing Power’s weekend workshop, a program for local residents to tour the farm site, learn about agriculture and nutrition and taste the bounty of his urban harvest.   

“Food is at the foundation,” Allen said, “but it’s really about life.”

The third film took a much different approach to the topic of local food. “Planting for Peace: Bury Seeds, Not Bodies,” produced by Michael Cermak, explored the relationship between the anti-violence and urban agriculture movements.

“What is the relationship between what comes from the seed and what comes from the bullet?” the film mused. “One gives life, one takes it away. One builds hope, one silences it … So many bullets taking lives … and not enough seeds being planted.”

Urging the community to “put down guns” and instead “pick up shovels,” the film explained that urban farming is an effective way to not only reclaim green space in cities — but to give youth meaningful work and keep them off the streets.

The beautifully written film grew out of the work of the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a Roxbury- and Jamaica Plain-based organization devoted to stopping youth violence. Students involved in the HSTF’s food and digital literacy programs spent six months learning about food justice, and another six months learning to use film equipment, which culminated in co-writing and co-producing “Planting for Peace.”

Following each presentation, the crowd engaged the filmmakers in a lively dialogue about their ideas and possible ways to move forward.

But the evening wasn’t simply for talking about local food — it was for tasting it as well.

The accompanying “Local Farm Feast” featured produce from Allandale Farm in Brookline — pizza topped with kale, leeks, garlic and spinach, a side of mesclun salad and rhubarb upside-down cake for dessert.

Travelling less than five miles from farm to fork, the meal burst with flavor, particularly the rhubarb, whose sweetness was exquisite.