In Ingredients, farmers and chefs unite to bring more flavorful, nutritious foods to restaurants and consumers. Local, sustainable farming is the key in this documentary written and directed by Robert Bates.
Ingredients is now available from Netflix, and at the film’s website.
Seasonal eating pleasures
Living in France at age 19 inspired chef Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. People shopped at open air food markets. They stood in line at the bakery for fresh-baked bread. Mussels were eaten “right out of the water.”
“I had this whole sense of aliveness around eating,” she says. “It was a way I wanted to live.” Back in America, Waters sent food buyers to visit farms and develop relationships with farmers. She began ordering directly from farms that agreed to practice sustainable farming.
“As chefs we’re the catalyst,” says chef Greg Higgins of Portland’s Higgins. “We find the good ingredients, we showcase them to people, and hopefully get them excited and searching those ingredients out at the market.”
Growing good food
There’s a big difference between growing food and growing a commodity, says Bob Jones Jr. of The Chef’s Garden. “We farm the soil, not the plant,” he explains. Healthy soil ecosystems yield better color, flavor, shelf life and nutritional values, he says.
John Neumeister of Cattail Creek Lamb, who supplies Chez Panisse, uses low density ranching and a diversity of livestock to ward off disease.
Farm to table flavors
“We only want to pick what’s perfect that week” to keep customers happy, he adds. He introduces new vegetables to restaurants, including the Mediterranean succulent agretti.
Cathy Whims, Nostrana’s chef and owner, believes that “if our farmers and ranchers are making a good living they’re going to stay here.” With oil shortages, “why do we need something that’s coming across country?”
Strengthening local economies
Food imports have increased four-fold in the past decade, with the FDA unable to inspect most of these, the film argues.
“Globalization has been sold to us as a given,” says Carol Boutard of Ayer’s Creek Farm. “You need to control what you eat. You need to demand and reassert that control and be part of the process of what you eat,” she urges.
When farms supply restaurants and farmers’ markets directly, they need not use food brokers or sell to international commodity markets. Local people profit.
A new generation of farmers is attracted to local farming. Government policy could support local farmers, many of whom cannot afford health insurance, college tuitions or retirement.
Hidden costs of cheap food
The demand for cheap food drives farmers and ranchers to reduce costs. They mass produce food and use cheap labor. Even major organic farmers grow monocrops and use organic pesticides, says Marcuvitz.
Organic food shipped from thousands of miles away is a week or more old, he adds.
Local farming pioneer
“People didn’t know what their demands were doing to the world, and they still don’t,” says Joan Dye Gussow, professor emeritus at Columbia University.
Gussow learned that Haiti was exporting hogs to the U.S. 20 years ago. “The poorest country in the hemisphere has no business raising hogs for the United States,” she said.
“We were just pulling food from all over heedless of the conditions of how it was grown and who grew it and what their situation was,” she continues. “So I had this idea that we really had to relocalize the food supply.”
Gussow began to grow her own food. “I haven’t bought a vegetable probably in 10 years,” he boasts.
Pay the doctor or pay the farmer
“You can pay the doctor or pay the farmer,” says Higgins. “There’s no culture in the world that spends less on food per capita or more on medicine than the United States. To me it’s a painfully obvious truth.”
A lack of fresh food and overabundance of processed foods puts kids’ health at risk, says chef Cory Schreiber, program manager for Oregon’s Farm to School program. Each year 17,000 new processed foods are manufactured. Processed foods contribute to childhood diabetes, studies have found.
Beginning in 2000, the world experienced a net loss in farm land, according to Will Newman of the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. Farm acreage has dropped every year since as world population grows.
Local farming can’t feed the masses yet, says the film. To achieve that, farms must be located near cities. Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary law is considered one of the nation’s most progressive land use laws. Local farms supply the Portland metropolitan area as cities grow up rather than out.
Too many ingredients?
Ingredients raises many issues which it cannot fully explore in one hour. Mentioned are petrochemical use in food production and packaging; sustainably produced wine in Oregon; seed production; biodynamic farming methods; and getting kids to eat more vegetables through farm to school initiatives. (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Ingredients / 2009 / NR / 1 hour, 7 min
Cast Overview: Bebe Neuwirth (narrator), Alice Waters, Greg Higgins, Carol and Anthony Boutard, Lee Jones, Bob Jones Sr., Bob Jones Jr., John Neumeister, Sheldon Marcuvitz, Cathy Whims, Peter Hoffman, Will Newman, Laura Masterson, Pascal Sauton
Director: Robert Bates
Genres: Documentary, Local Farming, Sustainability