(2012) Documentary (Southern Foodways Alliance) Will Harris, Dori Sanders, Rodney Scott, Lee Ross, Kendall Schoelles, Thomas Stewart, Julian van Winkle, Ben Lanier, Allan Benton, Bill Best, Geno Lee, Rhoda Adams, Leah Chase, Martha Hawkins, Ida Mamusu, Earl Cruze, Helen Turner, Bernard Colleton, Red Coleman, Sam Jones, Bruce Jones, Gerald Lemoine, Ronnie Durand. Directed by Joe York
Southern cuisine is much more than pork rinds, barbecue and deep fried. The South has always gotten a bit of a bad rap when it comes to food until the last decade or two when chefs have begun to discover that there is an abundance of fresh ingredients, delicious cooking that takes its cues from all over the world. Celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, Art Smith, Norm van Aiken and of course Paula Deen have been enthusiastic ambassadors for Southern cooking over the past decade and some of the best restaurants in the world come from the South.
But Southern cooking isn’t all about celebrity chefs. There are literally thousands of food producers who take great pride in bringing to market the finest of ingredients, the most delicious of finished products. Some are the latest in generations of people who have done the same thing, some preserving the timeless traditions of taking the time to do things right.
The Southern Foodways Alliance has been dedicated to preserving Southern food traditions and publicizing the best of the best – those who produce beautiful Georgia peaches, grass-fed beef, gulf oysters, sweet Tupelo honey, flavorful smoked Virginia hams, gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, potent Kentucky bourbon and of course the best barbecue there is. Some of these are sold directly to the public while others are available only through suppliers.
York, acting on behalf of the SFA and the University of Mississippi Documentary program has been traveling throughout the South from New Orleans to Memphis, from Georgia to Virginia and all points in between – not just sampling the ample variety of food but documenting it on a series of shorts that celebrate the passions of these producers – from oyster shuckers to caviar farmers to orchard owners to bourbon distillers to beekeepers to barbecue pit masters – who not only cook the food but those who produce the ingredients.
He’s gathered some of these shorts as well as several new ones in a feature length documentary that not only celebrates the food but those behind it as well. We get to see people who love the land and its bounty, some of them quirky (grass-fed beef producer Will Harris likes to end his day with a “700ml glass of wine”), some of them completely passionate (like Tupelo honey producer Ben Lanier who waxes rhapsodic over the superiority of his brand of honey) and some of them who are philosophical (peach grower Dori Sanders on how food “speaks to you” and tells you something about who you are). Not a one of these shorts are boring and every one of them will not only give you a different outlook on food and eating but will make you downright hungry in the process.
You get a sense of the modern South here, from rural South Carolina to metropolitan New Orleans. The beauty of the green pastures where cattle graze in the late afternoon sun – far from the steroid-injected factory farm cattle who live in stalls fed on corn and chemicals meant to create a greater meat yield – gives you a sense of why these people love the land they tend and love what they do. These are people I wouldn’t mind spending an hour or two just chatting about their products and about their lives, sitting on the porch with a cold frosty beverage or perhaps enjoying the fruits of their labors. Sadly, we only get five minutes or so with each one – I could certainly have enjoyed longer chats with each and every one of these people. That’s the mark of a great documentary.
Incidentally, you can see the shorts at the Southern Foodways alliance website here and to find out where you can get the products shown in the film go to the movie’s website by clicking on the picture above.
REASONS TO GO: Each segment is fascinating and there isn’t one I didn’t wish had lasted longer.
REASONS TO STAY: You’ll be real hungry by the time this is over.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some animal carcasses that might upset the very impressionable young or militant vegetarians.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the transportation was done through a Ford Taurus station wagon, affectionately nicknamed the “Schwagon” which York drove to the various locations throughout the South. The Schwagon was retired with honors shortly before the film was completed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; the film is mostly on the festival circuit and at one-off screenings throughout the Southeast; PBS will be airing it sometime in the fall.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Food Finds
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Year of the Living Dead and more coverage of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!