Q & A with Food, Inc: Our Chat with the Academy Award Nominated Producer Elise Pearlstein
Food, Inc., was just nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. It’s been hailed as one of the best films of the year as filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA.
Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking— truths about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here. Last week, Oprah's studio audience watched the documentary before a one hour show focused on how the food we eat gets to the kitchen table. We chatted with one of the film’s producers, Elise Pearlstein, about the making of the film and why it’s so important:
MindBodyGreen: What inspired the making of Food, Inc and your involvement?
Elise Pearlstein: Filmmaker Robert Kenner was inspired to make Food, Inc. after reading Eric Schlosser’s groundbreaking book Fast Food Nation. It took a number of years before Food, Inc. found a home at Participant Media, the company behind An Inconvenient Truth among other important films. When Robby mentioned the project to me, I was immediately interested and wanted to get involved. I’m also a huge fan of Eric’s book, and have explored food issues in other documentaries.
MBG: Has the movie affected your grocery shopping? Where do you shop?
EP: I shop at farmers markets whenever I can. I always loved the experience of going to the farmers market, but now I have a greater urgency to support local farmers, and to talk about what they do. I also like to shop at Trader Joe’s, for one because they tell you where their produce comes from so you can make informed decisions about what you buy.
MBG: What’s the biggest misconception that Americans have about food?
EP: Most Americans think that their food still comes from a little farm with a red barn and a white picket fence. It makes sense because that image in perpetuated by the companies themselves. It’s on all of the packaging. If Americans really saw where they food comes from, they’d be shocked at how far from the idyllic farm it really is.
MBG: Any particular part of the film process for Food, Inc that was enlightening for you – or fun?
EP: I really loved meeting farmers and other people who do the work of raising our food. But I was surprised how many of them felt frustrated and disempowered by the current system, particularly by the consolidation of the market place. There are so few companies in charge of the food supply that these farmers and growers have really limited options. If you upset the Company, you could be quickly out of business. It felt like the days of the big trusts. Fun…it was fun to be at Joel Salatin’s farm – Polyface Farms. It’s incredibly beautiful and everyone who works there seems to really love what they do. We had a great family dinner with the Salatin clan, which felt pretty special.
MBG: What’s the one message you’d like to get across with Food, Inc?
EP: The message we’re NOT trying to get across is that there’s one way to eat and we’re the food police. We are trying to raise tough questions about how we feed ourselves affordably without doing irreparable damage to the earth, the animals, the workers, and ultimately, ourselves.
MBG: Who inspires you?
EP: I’m really inspired by people who speak out, even at risk to themselves. This includes a lot of people in the film such as Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Carole Morison, Troy Roush, Barb Kowalyck and Moe Parr. It’s hard to rock the boat, but these people are getting the truth out.
MBG: If it was your Last Supper, what would your last meal be? Where would the meal be? Who would you like to be there (past/present/future)?
EP: I’d go for a truly excellent all-you-can eat salad bar, set it in a field in New England at the height of Fall with the leaves changing. Who would be there? Still making the guest list but definitely David Bowie, Christine Amanpour, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King.
For more on Elise and FOOD, Inc.: