I'm always suspect when I come across another food movie. You know the kind - they all have the same messages: organic, local, sustainable food is the answer; the conflicting, interconnected nature of the FDA, USDA; and, sugar is bad. You watch them and think, "This is horrible! What are we doing to our bodies and to our planet! I'm going to eat better! Eat more kale!" Of course, this is vastly oversimplifying the complex and truly messed up nature of the American food system. But, in short, all these movies repeat the same talking points...which can be to the detriment of their intended message. They are simply preaching to the audience already doing the work: those individuals on the pulse of the new food movement, the do-gooders, the sustainable eaters, farmers, movers and shakers. But, just when I thought my cynicism got the best of me, I reluctantly watched "The Kids Menu," a 2015 film by Joe Cross*...and, I was thoroughly impressed!
"The Kids Menu" has a unique take on the dietary reality of children in the U.S. Rather than regurgitating the talking points of other food movies, Cross paints a hopeful picture of the new food system model by profiling incredible organizations, school systems, educators, gardeners, and activists making a tremendous difference in the lives of children throughout the country. (Check out some of the resources from the film here, especially the Windy City Harvest Program of the Chicago Botanic Garden, The GrowHaus, and the Sage Garden Project, a multifaceted food and garden initiative by one public school district in Encinitas, California). These people know their stuff and are passionate as hell!
Food has a truly transformative effect on children, especially when coupled with integrative, clever farm-to-school and farm-to-community efforts. I see it as part of my job working with kids in the garden on the Cheyenne River Reservation. When we involve kids in the growing, cooking and eating process of good food, it can radically shift their worldview, build their confidence, and inspire them in countless ways. It's incredible to see the knowledge that kids retain and espouse by working in the garden and how genuinely happy and comfortable they feel in the space.
My one criticism of the "The Kids Menu" is that it does not cover the issue of rural poverty and hunger, such as what my coworkers and I see on the Reservation. But, I recognize that it's not fair to expect one film to capture the vast inequities in our food system or profile all of the food justice initiatives popping up throughout the country. It is certainly worth your time to watch "The Kids Menu," especially if you have children, deal with children, care about children, or, if you were a child. So, really, just watch it!
(*Some food-movie watchers may know Joe Cross as the man behind "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.)