The modern food landscape is more confusing than ever. Words like "organic," "sustainable," and "all-natural" have been so diluted from overuse and vague definition as to become meaningless. Worse, some communities have little or no access to fresh produce of any kind, irrespective of the virtuousness of its provenance. Should we even be eating what's at the end of the American fork?
Okay, enough with the doom and gloom. There are plenty of folks fighting the good fight -- punching through the barriers of the industrialized food machine and bringing fresh, real food to American plates.
Enter Food Forward, an aspirational new television series whose pilot aired last night at the Goldman Theater in Berkeley's David Brower Center. After a mix and mingle featuring hors d'oeuvres using ingredients sourced by Half Moon Bay's Local FATT (Food Awareness Through Teaching) and eco-conscious tipples from Parducci Wine Cellars and Lagunitas Brewing Company, writer Stett Holbrook and producer Greg Roden spoke of their desire to bring stories of true food heroes to the small screen.
The pilot focuses on urban farmers, featuring inspirational stories from across the country. On one hand, you have people like John Mooney, who set up a sophisticated hydroponic garden on a rooftop of his Manhattan restaurant, Bell Book & Candle, and Andrew Coté, beekeeper. Discussing his wares at a local market, he quips to a shopper, "The Manhattan honey has higher rent, and the Brooklyn honey has more attitude." Stories like these present hopeful solutions to creating more sustainable sources of nourishment even in population-dense cities like New York.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the extreme dereliction of Detroit, where homes and office towers are crumbling back into the earth. So vacant are many communities that locals have little choice but to eat out of gas stations and convenience stores. Where abandoned lots lay fallow, independent farmers like Edith Floyd with her jaunty orange tractor and Malik Yakini of Detroit Black Community Food Security breathe life into the soil.
Oakland resident Abeni Ramsey told her story of going from feeding her family Top Ramen out of economic necessity to becoming an independent urban farmer. An agriculture major, she understands the inner workings of our food system. "It's a modern idea that you get your produce, that it's the only way," she says, noting in the Q&A afterward that growing up she remembered her family growing gardens in urban plots in New York. "It's a revolutionary act to plant a tomato in your backyard."
Food Forward doesn't lay on a guilt trip like some other food politic and environmental programming does. Rather, it's an uplifting, inspirational work.
Holbrook and Roden are taking the pilot on the road, seeking support to raise funds for production of a full 13-episode season. Future episodes are slated to tackle school lunch reform, sustainable fish, and clean water and soil. At $75,000-plus per episode (the production values are exceptional, and then of course there's the travel budget), that adds up to about $1.5 million needed to continue the project, ideally to run on KQED in 2012. So, if you've got a cool mill burning a hole in your pocket, you know who to call. Heck, even half a mill, chump change. They won't turn it away.