You Can’t Fool the Children of the Revolution

Back in January, I posted a rant on TasteTO, asking where were the Canadian chefs, activists, TV shows and documentaries that would advocate for better food in our country, as is the case with chefs in the UK such as Jamie Oliver. I specifically called out CBC, suggesting that they should start running food-related documentaries, especially related to various political issues.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email advising me that CBC would be running a 4-part documentary series called The Great Food Revolution. The first two episodes ran last night, and the final two will run next week.

Now I know these docs had to have been in the works well before I posted my rant (part of the second episode was filmed at an event I attended in November – my chest makes a cameo appearance), so I really can’t bitch too much about the fact that they don’t exactly address the issues I mentioned. But part of the problem is, they don’t exactly address much of anything – and what they do address is kind of scattered and incomplete.

Episode 1 looked at the growth of the celebrity chef, specifically Ricardo Larrive. It also looked at the rising popularity of ethnic foods such as sushi, and took us through some of the process in evaluating restaurants for Michelin stars. Finally, it followed a student chef at George Brown College during her rotation in the kitchen at The Chef’s House. All of these are interesting topics, and all could each be stretched into a full hour-long episode, but instead the director cuts the stories together, jumping back and forth, making the film seem really chaotic and without any real focus. One bit about tropical fruit showed a number of different varieties, but didn’t bother to cut them open to show the inside, or explain the taste.

Episode 2 looked at supermarkets and how products are created and placed. First, a huge store called Jungle Jim’s in Ohio that is part supermarket and part amusement park. It also showed a small regional potato chip producer and his plans for expansion, as well as a very successful NYC caterer who specialized in local food, growing most of the ingredients she uses on her own farm. But the bulk of the episode was about how new products are created, and for this segment the filmmaker followed two different product developers from Loblaw’s as they did research and development to create a sauce and a frozen lasagna. Except that the documentary really came off looking like a giant ad for Loblaw’s. Other grocery chains have house brands and do product development as well – Sobey’s works with students at George Brown; there’s even a tricked out test kitchen at the school. Like the first episode, this one tried to jam too much information into an hour, and jumped from segment to segment erratically. Also, the narration in both episodes used certain buzzwords as a crutch; foodie, locavore… to the point where it became trite and annoying.

Next week’s episodes look to maybe be a bit more focused – episode 3 will be about a day in the life of food in NYC (interesting, but this would be just as interesting and more topical if it were a Canadian city), while episode 4 is slated to be about the future of food, so I’m guessing we can expect lots of references to molecular gastronomy.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much – it’s better than nothing, and maybe it’s the step needed to get Canadian filmmakers thinking about and working on more food-related films. But a good documentary should leave the viewer feeling like they learned something, or even better, feeling like they should do something. The Great Food Revolution left me feeling a bit let down; there was so much left unsaid, so much useful information not communicated, and the method of delivery was too erratic.