It's 'An Inconvenient Truth' For Food

We're all going to die! We're depleting our resources! And it's all our fossil-fuel burning, agribusiness-dependent, cow-eating faults!

OK, now with that out of the way, what are we going to try to do about it?

I recommend you start with checking out a new Generation Food crowd-sourcing campaign on Indie Go Go that will help fund a new book and documentary by the author Raj Patel (The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved) and Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters). And these guys are not going to take your money and just mope about it; their project is seeking to highlight communities around the world "from Malawi to Michigan" that are already coming up with innovative ways to feed the world now, and for future generations.

For instance, they talk of how, in the Peruvian highlands, farmers have lost a large swath of their growing season thanks to changes in the climate. So, they have come up with new ways to farm the 600-plus native varieties of potato at 11,000 feet. That, plus their markets have sliding-scale prices, a sign that the food system there is of and for the people — not profits. James told me he's particularly jazzed to shoot farming practices up in the Andes.

I haven't read Patel's books, but I know James' work and I think these guys are worth banking on. (There are about two weeks left in the campaign, so get on it!) Their companion projects are due to hit shelves and theaters in 2014, so you can get in there from the beginning. Think: An Inconvenient Truth, but about food.

There's already a lot of awareness (among the converted) about how messed up our food situation is. How will Generation Food cut through the clutter and make its point?

Patel: There are many fine food documentaries already. What we're hoping to do is something a little more international, solutions-centred, amusing, and with the kind of story-telling skill that only Steve can bring.

James: Well, at least I've convinced Raj of that. Or maybe he is setting me up to do the film for cheap. In any event, I do agree that the challenge is to reach beyond the choir. One way is to make it a film that connects you more deeply with people around the world who are fighting the good fight. In my experience, that means less from experts and more immersion into peoples lives to witness their inspired efforts as well as the contradictions they – and by extension, all of us – wrestle with.

Tell me about a couple of communities/organizations that will be featured in the film/book...

Patel: I just got back from a couple of places that will certainly make it into the book. The world's longest [living] people used to live in Okinawa. Now, grandparents are burying their grandkids. We travelled there to understand why. And in Cuba last month, we saw how farmers are using some wildly inventive ideas to grow food without fossil fuels in a way that's more productive than conventional agriculture. We'll be visiting communities in the US too – more on that as the film develops...

Will you be including bearded Williamsburg foodie hipsters in any way?

Patel: No foodie hipsters planned, but if we don't meet our fundraising goal, we might need to get to our locations on fixies.

No one's perfect — what's the food item currently in your fridge that makes you feel the most guilt? Why?

James: Therapy has taught me to reject such guilt. With pride I have chocolate peanut butter cups in the fridge. (It's hot here in Chicago.) On a shelf in the basement is the largest assortment of chips in the Western Hemisphere.

Patel: I'm with Steve at worshipping at the Temple of the Chip. Packets are never open long enough to require refrigeration.

What's going to be better? The book or the movie?

James: Well, since nobody reads books anymore, it's kind of a moot question.

Patel: Touché, Steve. Except we both know the app will be better than either book or film.

Bittman or Bourdain? Quick, pick one. And explain why.

Patel: Easy — Bittman. He's actually thinking about whether we should be eating meat, wrote a book about food and climate change, and gives a damn about workers not just in his kitchen, but in the fields where food is grown.

What's the most food-responsible thing you'd hope all Americans do each and every day?

James: Here at home, I'd love to see a reconnection to the values of slow food. Local food. Small is beautiful. I got a chance to glimpse some of what that could mean when I visited an urban garden here in Chicago's Englewood community, a place too often associated with violence and despair. It was changing lives.

Patel: Imagine a world where everyone could eat, and then go out and make it happen.

See the Generation Food Project campaign launch video. And click here to donate.