This week I had the somewhat bizaare experience of seeing two wonderful films that are the flipside of each other. If you participate in my food world then you know it’s not just about the great restaurant, the lovely plated treat, the stroll through the farmers market. I’m also concerned about eco-degradation driven by poor agricultural practices, and the double edge of hungry children and children who are obese yet still hungry. I wish Chef and Fed Up were showing as a giant double feature.
The first, Chef celebrates the act of cooking and the people who are passionate about it. Produced, written, directed and starring Jon Favreau who had the savvy to ask Roy Choi to be his co-producer, the movie is quite wonderful. A feel good plot that centers on Favreau’s character Chef Carl Casper. He’s a talented chef (well reviewed back in the day) who misplaced his passion and edge in favor of the security (and pay check) working as the Chef de Cuisine at Gaulloises owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman). He spends hours working on gorgeous dishes (that I would pay to taste) but never has the balls to serve them. He’s in a rut, with his son too, who in the all too familiar scene for divorced parents everywhere stands waiting outside the house for his stressed Chef Dad to pick him up, take him out for a cheap thrill and quickly deliver him back to the same stretch of sidewalk. All Casper wants is to cook his food. All the kid wants is to spend a real moment with Dad. They get the chance when Casper blows up his gig with a couple well placed twitter bombs. Now with nothing to lose he’s back in Miami, the city where it all started for him, with his ex (Sofia Vergara) and his kid and a food truck. Mom flies back to LA as father, son and sous chef /road partner Martin (a pitch perfect John Leguizamo) get on the road. Road-tripping hilarity and bonding ensues. After hundreds of miles and lot of good food, social media savvy and fan lines Dad’s self-esteem is back on track as are his relationships. Like I said, a feel good movie with a soundtrack that makes it hard to sit in your theater seat (shout out to KCRW’s own Mathieu Schreyer.) Chef sends the message that the act of preparing food well is a worthwhile endeavor that despite the difficulty can balance your life and even help you work you way out of a hole.
Fed Up, on the other hand is an incisive look at one of the holes we as a society have created for ourselves by allowing too much of our sustenance to be highjacked by corporations with an understandable focus on the bottom line. Producer Katie Couric disturbed by multiple news stories on diet and health she covered over many years, approached Producer Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth) to do a documentary on fat, exercise, children, government and industry.
The film’s through line is the role of sugar in today’s obesity crisis. What it is, how it works in the body and the generation of obese children who ingest it all day long, even in purported “healthy” foods. If Chef made me tear up and laugh with delight, I found myself actually crying through much of Fed Up. Director Stephanie Soechtig humanizes a story that has all the attributes of a real tragedy. Co-opted science, industry scrambling to protect itself, bullied children fed (literally) a bunch of crap caught in the crossfire. Why does this feel so much like society vs. tobacco of decades ago? When I dried my tears I could feel the anger building. However, unlike David’s previous documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which made you feel helpless in the face of the enormity of the problem; food, well that’s something you can wrap your head around.
The best answer to the anger you’ll likely feel after watching Fed Up is simply to shop for real food and cook real food. And if someone you know is struggling with health and doesn’t have the cooking or shopping chops you do, help them. Invite them over to cook with you. Take them on a trip to a farmers market or grocery that sells lots of real food. Most families have a rotation of ten dishes. Give the gift of one simple, inexpensive dish to include in their repertoire. Cooking makes life real, grounds us, feeds us, and allows us to feed others. After you make dinner go see Chef and shake off the despair.
Watch the trailers of both Chef and Fed Up below: