The Washington Post has called this season the "Summer of Food Docs," citing a feast of films that sound deliciously informative and, unfortunately, completely unavailable to me here in Pittsburgh. Where the groundbreaking, eye-opening books of the past few years have served me well — inspiring me to forgo CAFO meats, plant an organic garden in my urban yard, and buy local even if it meant spending more — I felt sadly removed from the film versions of this activism.

That is, until a parenting blog suggested I host my own private screening of Fresh. This film, not released in major theaters, works to spread a positive message about small farms and local food, and it's doing it entirely through private to medium-sized community screenings.

The concept seemed almost magical to me. For a $20 license, I could show the 70-minute film in my living room to 20 people — whenever I wanted! Plus, unlike the huge Cineplex, I could serve locally grown popcorn and ask my guests to bring something local to share ... all for much less money and more interesting conversation than a usual movie night. The hardest part of hosting my own indie flick turned out to be waiting to watch it until my guests were actually in my house.

Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes chose to release the movie solely to small groups spattered across the country to ensure that Fresh "mimics the food movement in that what's really growing is not different food, but a new awareness. You cannot create a new vision or shift of consciousness from the top down — it must come from among us, from the bottom up."


The grassroots project is spreading at a hydroponic pace. In the first month of release, Joanes sold around 400 licenses for screenings ranging from 20 to 100-plus people. And, lucky for me, these people are not limited to those living near places like New York, L.A. or Chicago. Concerned eaters everywhere from Urbana, Ill., to Waterville, Maine, have equal access.

I felt dramatically empowered by my ability to watch this new movie on my terms, with a group of like-minded people. This was not a room of newcomers shocked at the realities of industrial agriculture. Quite the contrary — everyone I invited has gone in on a share of pastured cow or joined me in line at the farmers market, but we still found the film inspiring and important.

We were clearly not alone in this reaction. On a month-long tour to some of the larger community screenings (including a sold-out, 700-person movie and panel discussion in Minneapolis), Joanes met with thousands of people, many of whom first saw Fresh at private screenings and later arranged for larger community events to engage people in the deepening conversation.

A screening kit for Fresh comes with post-viewing discussion questions, which suggest the audience trade resources or discuss local projects — small ones as well as large. Ripple Effect (the name Joanes chose for her film company) plays off the idea that our individual actions really do matter.

"We are taught to think our individual actions are meaningless," Joanes says. "But in reality we are collectively creating the world. Ripple Effect is about my desire to recapture a sense that ... there is nothing you do that doesn't deeply affect everything else."

Her movie demonstrates this in an uplifting, powerful way, focusing on small farmers and how local, slow-food movements benefit them and their families. This distinguishes the overall tone and message of Fresh from many other foodie films and books. It's a film that shies away from guilt-driven change, allowing the viewer to imagine the horrors of industrial animal processing and showing instead the celebratory moments of sustainable farming.

These scenes — families eating dinner together, or a tour group visiting an urban Wisconsin farm to learn about worms — aren't meant to shock or disturb. "People don't want to feel bad about what they do," Joanes says. "And the food movement doesn't need to be about sacrifice!"

That word was certainly far from my mind as I ate freshly picked cherries in my armchair Friday evening during my screening party. I thought of Joanes' goal to reach 1 million people with her movie, a project she calls a "pleasure revolution." Instead of enduring some kind of sacrifice to enjoy these friends, the food and the film, I couldn't wait to spread the news about the coolest food innovation since sliced, homemade bread (made from local flour).

MNN homepage photo: law_keven/Flickr and archideaphoto/iStockphoto