A video about food deliverymen in Mumbai doesn't sound like a natural subject for an Internet hit, but then neither does a video about eating roadkill in Minnesota, or a Christian approach to dairy farming in Ohio.
Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, creators of the hit online food show The Perennial Plate, are rapidly making a name for themselves posting free, fascinating and unusual online dispatches on our global food culture. The show has received accolades from the likes of Food & Wine Magazine, acclaimed food writer Michael Pollan, and Thomas Kelly, chef at the world famous French Laundry.
The couple is now in the midst of a third season – which sees Perennial Plate going global, with videos coming from as far afield as China, India, Thailand and Italy. Previous seasons saw Daniel and Mirra explore a year of eating locally in their native Minnesota, followed by a roadtrip around the United States. (Including this memorable episode on hunting iguana in Florida, below.)
Besides all the yummy food, Perennial Plate’s videos are marked by two distinguishing features. The first is their commitment to move beyond the usual locavore/organic niche, reaching across traditional ethnic, cultural or economic divides to present the true human stories behind the food we grow, hunt, catch and eat.
The second distinguishing feature is their willingness to ask the sometimes tough questions about what truly constitutes sustainable food. With Daniel, an omnivore, chowing down on invasive species and Mirra — a committed vegetarian — making little effort to disguise her discomfort and distress at some of the scenes, the couple have explored the concept of ethical eating with all the complications, contradictions and conundrums that are inherent to the topic.
We caught up with Daniel (pictured right) to find out more about their travels, and what comes next for the Perennial Plate.
MNN: For those who aren't familiar, what is the Perennial Plate and how did it get started?
Daniel Klein: The Perennial Plate is an online documentary series about sustainable food — aka whatever we are interested in learning about related to food outside of the industrial food system.
This can mean ice fisherman in Minnesota, tomato pickers in Florida or truffle hunters in Italy. We have released free content on a regular basis over the past two years to share inspiring points of view from food producers around the world and to encourage dialogue about where food comes from and who produces it.
How's the global leg of the Perennial Plate journey going? How does it compare to your Minnesota and U.S. seasons?
The global filming has been great.
The audience has been growing dramatically and we've had more time to edit, thus producing a higher quality product. However, the process has been hard. Although we have a great partner with Intrepid Travel, finding stories is difficult and bridging the language barrier can slow the process of capturing real moments from our subjects.
That being said, a passion for real food is pretty universal, and we are really proud of the international episodes.
What's been the highlight of the trip(s) so far?
China was amazing. We had heard horror stories of pollution and food poisoning. But we had blue skies and healthy stomachs. I know that isn't always the case, but it made for a wonderful trip. Beyond the beautiful scenery and the wonderful food, the highlights are almost always the people we meet. It’s a little harder to connect when there is a translator, but usually we find a way.
Mirra has been communicating weekly with the udon maker from our first episode, for example. And the people of Italy are certainly a highlight, they are so generous and fun! It’s inspiring.
The Dabbawalla story seems to be getting some traction. What interested you about the phenomenon?
We choose stories that we are interested in.
I've seen a lot of short programs about the Dabbawallas, but thought we could make one that was really visually stunning. I really wanted to film people in white biking through the streets of Mumbai! We actually started off thinking that this video would be the basis for our montage of all of India, but its so fascinating that it needed its own story. Especially when the men started talking about how they feel like they are a vehicle for healthy eating.
What can other countries/culture learn from systems like the Dabbawalla network?
It's an example of how a simple method can be really effective if taken seriously.
People always need progress, but if there is a great system that creates jobs, helps people be healthy and doesn't use up natural resources, why not hang on to it?
The Perennial Plate seems to be filling a gap that is not being met by traditional cooking shows and TV networks. Is this the future of food shows?
I don't know about filling a gap, but I do feel like the future of food shows is changing. First off, I think the current culture is going way too deep into food.
I like food, I love food, but I don't want to talk about it all the time, and that's not what our show is. It’s about more than the food, it’s about the people, the ideas, the reason behind making a better food system.
It's really a change in life outlook that we are gunning for on the Perennial Plate — food obsession is just the bait!
As a vegetarian and an (adventurous!) meat eater filming together, you guys have always been very open about your personal responses to sustainable eating. Is the concept of ethical eating an inherently personal one or are there universal values that can be applied?
I think the universal value regarding what we eat should simply be intention. You can choose to be vegetarian, to eat fast food, to eat only grass-fed, I just believe everyone should think about what they are eating and face the truth behind where their food comes from. There is a reality behind our food; it may be complicated, but we should face it.
What’s next for the Perennial Plate
Next for The Perennial Plate? Nobody knows. Do you have any ideas? We would love to continue to travel and tell stories. We'd also like to do something more concrete. We'll see; we are filming till next year.
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