Recent documentaries like "Fed Up," "Food, Inc.," and "Forks Over Knives" have sounded the warning alarm about the dire straits the American food industry is in. Their message: what we're eating is killing us and doing equal harm to the planet. But there is light on the horizon. As the PBS series "Food Forward TV" presents, there are "food rebels" across the country who are exploring new — and in some cases, old — ways of cultivating, obtaining, and preparing what sustains us, and more sustainably.
"We've all heard what's wrong with the way we eat," says producer and director Greg Roden. "Our series goes beyond celebrity chefs, cooking competitions and recipes to reveal the compelling stories and inspired solutions from Americans striving to create a more just, sustainable and delicious alternative to how and what we eat. There are a lot of positive things going on right now and we want to capture and share those stories."
The first episode, "Go Fish," now viewable online and rolling out on PBS stations nationwide starting on Sept. 4 (check local listings), spotlights an old school northwest tuna fishing and cannery operation that turns its waste into organic fertilizer; a family of weir-and-net fishers and clammers in Massachusetts; and Montauk, Long Island's Dock to Dish, which sells the catch of the day directly to consumers and restaurants.
Episode two, "The Meat of the Matter," showcases cattle and bison ranchers who operate organic farms, raising their grass-fed, free-range livestock free of antibiotics and hormones. White Oak Farms in Bluffton, Georgia, which had become a factory farm, reverted to the methods its founder employed five generations ago, which owner Will Harris deems less efficient but more humane, and have less environmental impact. Seeing his animals mingle and run free, "We're trying to emulate nature," says Harris, who operates a farm-to-table restaurant on the premises.
The episode includes several scenes of animal slaughter and butchery that might be a bit graphic for vegetarians. Producer Roden says he wanted to show a reality that is usually hidden from the consumer.
Subsequent segments focus on topics such as seeds, soil, school lunches, new farming methods, food waste, and foraging, many including recipes. The "Modern Milk" episode shows alternatives to industrial milk, among them Organic Pastures, the largest raw milk producer in the U.S. People assume consuming it is dangerous, but the opposite is true, says owner Mark McAfee. "The standard is a high level of bacteria and pathogens [in milk] because it's going to be pasteurized. We change the paradigm," he says, explaining the company's mandate of impeccable agricultural standards, transparency and integrity in the product, and scrupulous control every step of the way.
"Quest for Water" shows ways in which small farmers are maximizing their use of the precious resource amid drought conditions and political and environmental conflicts. Examples include planting crops that tolerate salty water, using water-desalinating solar panels, and smart conservation methods.
Tim Thornhill of Calfornia's Parducci Winery installed a state-of-the art watering system that targets the root of each vine with drops of water instead of soaking the earth. The former landscaper put in a waterfall and filtration system to reclaim polluted pools of water on the property that he calls "a living green dialysis machine." He also grows organic vegetables and gives hundreds of pounds of produce to his employees every week. His philosophy: "Any time you can improve quality of product by reducing consumption of natural resources you win."
Producer Roden spent the better part of six years bringing the series to fruition, and believes audiences will appreciate the profiled pioneers who are making food affordable, accessible and sustainable. "I hope they’re educated, entertained and inspired," he says. "I want people to think a bit about their food the next time they eat."
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