The Place Is the Thing
The Lay of the Land'Eating Alabama'
Don't call Andrew Beck Grace a locavore. He just wanted to eat the way his grandfather ate. Four years ago, the native Alabaman moved back to his home state to run the University of Alabama's Documenting Justice program. His plan was to spend a year eating food produced within his home state. "It was a dual interest," Grace says, "One was that I love to cook, and we were getting really interested in good food. The other was sustainability."
The end result is Eating Alabama, a personal essay about food, farms, and tradition. Like many of his peers, Grace was hit hard by Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma and how "the evolution of our food system has created all these unintended consequences." Even so, he had a dream of returning to the soil his grandfather tilled and meeting his modern successors. "Alabama prides itself as an agricultural state," he says, "but I didn't really know any farmers or have any interaction with that world. So coming back to Alabama and being interested in food and sustainability, I thought, 'Well, maybe this is a way to literally tap into my roots.'" There was one problem: Those farmers are not there anymore.
What his film documents is the slow death of traditional agriculture at the hands of modern technology. The rural lifestyle that his grandfather escaped via the GI Bill is gone, and the farms he documented in family photographs have been destroyed by factory techniques. Seventy years ago, it took a whole family to run a subsistence farm. Now one person can raise a million chickens a year as a part-time job. "What that kind of system means is that you don't need farmers anymore," says Grace. "When all the systems are mechanized and all the crops are genetically modified, it just changes who needs to be growing food."
Don't mistake Grace for some pastoral fantasist: He understands why people escaped backbreaking farm chores. "For a long time, that was progress," he says, "but I do think we've gone too far. We've got to the point where we really don't make anything in this country anymore." Yet he finds some reason for optimism as sustainable farmers pop up like brilliantly flowering weeds among the sterile rows of genetically modified agribusiness crops. This new wave of small farmers mostly grew up in a comfortable middle-class, suburban setting; Grace attributes their return to the soil less to making money and more to lifestyle. "A lot of our schizophrenia as a culture is due to the fact that we don't have a tangible connection to anything real anymore. That's why you see a growth of young farmers, because they're doing something more than trying to preserve the land. They're trying to find some real redemption in hard work." – Richard Whittaker
Saturday, March 10, 11am, Alamo Ritz
Sunday, March 11, 10pm, Canon Screening Room
Tuesday, March 13, 4pm, Alamo Ritz
Thursday, March 15, 11:30am, Alamo Lamar