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By Bret McCabe | Posted 9/9/2009

Director Ana Sofia Joanes' documentary Fresh is the latest salvo in the ongoing American reevaluation of food--what's in it and where it comes from--and practically picks up where Robert Kenner's recent Food, Inc. leaves off. Both documentaries include interviews with Michael Pollan, whose 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma assayed the environmental, economic, political, and nutritional compromises that industrialized agriculture has created in the American food supply. Both documentaries remark upon the health deficits that animal and agricultural monoculture farming creates. And both look toward alternative strategies for growing and promoting healthier and more sustainable food supplies and dietary practices.

Fresh takes this last idea and runs with it. Checking in with people such as Kansas City's Diana Endicott, who helped co-organize the Good Natured Family Farms cooperative of local farmers to help get their products into supermarkets where people can buy them, and Missouri hog farmer Russ Kremer, who learned through personal injury how the antibiotics-dependent mass-production model wasn't the business model he should be following or promoting.

Joanes' approach here--focusing on the people and farms actively, and in many cases for many years, pursuing alternative farming strategies and economically thriving with them--is a refreshing leading-by-example argument in this ongoing food discussion. Sometimes the monolithic political and economic capital of big agribusiness can feel too daunting to pierce merely by voting with your proverbial dollar, and the righteous chatter about the food industry itself has made the notion of eating "local," "sustainable," "organic," etc. products into advertising copy and restaurant business models, cynically twisting the ideas of consumer choice into marketing data. Promoting healthy lifestyles is one thing; showing people and organizations significantly impacting their communities by their practices is more convincing.

And in Joel Salatin and Will Allen, new food strategies have two highly intelligent and radically eloquent spokespeople, not only for the economic success of sustainable food, but for its pragmatic humanity. Allen's advocacy and educational thrust with his urban Milwaukee farming organization Growing Power, which he started in 1993, earned him a 2008 MacArthur grant for his organization's innovative farming and distributions ideas. And Salatin's family-owned Polyface, Inc. in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, familiar to readers of Pollan's Dilemma, is a small wonder of holistic common sense. Just listening to Salatin's Zen-like discussions about respecting the chickness of the chicken makes the entire idea of bigger, faster, cheaper that powers the industrialized food business sounds like a sideshow carny seeking a gullible mark. The bottom line to Salatin's words, Fresh, and this current food push in general: Pay close attention to the men behind the curtain who put food in your bellies.

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