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Foodies share their favorite films on sustainability

Favorite Things: Sustainable Cinema

Foodies share their favorite films on sustainability

Focus Features takes an alternative look at food and movies by soliciting examples of “sustainable cinema” from five prominent figures within the food movement.

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Paul Roberts's Five Favorite Movies
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Babette's Feast

A really great film about food’s power to liberate even the most repressed soul. What’s so wonderful about this movie is its gorgeous understatement; unlike a lot of contemporary foodie flicks, Babette’s Feast doesn’t TELL you how important food is; it shows you. The scenes of the feast’s preparation build so perfectly to the climax that you almost can’t sit still. In Danish—but it hardly matters, as there are only about five lines of dialogue.

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Tampopo

American food enthusiasts have nothing on the foodies in Japan, a country that takes its food culture to a wild level. When this film came out, the egg-yolk kissing scene got all the attention; it’s deserved, but the rest of the story—and the texture of the movie—is instructional and inspiring.

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Eat at Bill's: Life in the Monterey Market

A sweet little documentary about a family-owned produce market in Berkeley, whose proprietor, Bill Fujimoto, truly gets, and gets into, fresh, seasonal food. Yes, it’s a bit special—an upscale store serving an upscale market in the middle of America’s “salad bowl”—this wouldn’t work everywhere. But it does capture the energy of the farmer’s market movement, as well as the enthusiasm that is missing from America’s modern grocery experience.

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Soylent Green

OK, so it was camp even when it came out in the early 1970s, but this classic sci-fi pic about the dystopic, famished future—2022—effectively portrays the Population Bomb angst of the times in a way that may still resonate. The depictions of scarcity, and the brief glimpses into the lives of those still rich enough to eat well (meat is like gold), are arresting even today; despite all our “progress,” we’re still not out of the woods. Plus, this movie may have the most awesome closing line in sci-fi history.

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Idiocracy

Sort of an update on Soylent Green, but funnier. Technically, this isn’t a film about food; it’s another film about a dystopic future where, due to a kind of reverse evolution, the human race has become really, really dumb. But food production is one area where poor intelligence really shows; in the movie, the population is threatened because farmers have been persuaded to irrigate with a Gatorade-like sports drink (“contains the electrolytes plants crave”) —a nice comment about the direction our current ag system sometimes seems to be headed. The opening scenes alone, where our breeding catastrophe is explained, are worth the price of admission.

Paul Roberts
Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Food, in which he examines the modern food economy and finds that the system entrusted to meet our most basic needs is failing dramatically. Michael Pollan called The End of Food "An indispensable book... the best analysis of the global food economy you are likely to find." Roberts is also the author of The End of Oil, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award in 2005. He has written about resource economics and politics for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, and lectures frequently on business and environmental issues. He lives in Washington State.

Roberts, as a leading thinker on the issues surrounding the modern food economy, was an ideal person to choose for us  five examples of “sustainable cinema.”

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