Eating Alabama

Slow Food, in collaboration with Farm to City, will present a free screening of the essay-style food documentary, Eating Alabama, on Monday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at The Rotunda on 4014 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia.

In search of a simpler life, filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace and his wife, Rashmi, return home to Alabama where they set out to eat the way their grandparents did – locally and seasonally. They quickly realize that nearly everything about the food system has changed, and eating local is not as easy as it used to be. Peppered with Grace’s thoughtful narrative and touching family anecdotes, Eating Alabama is a story about community, the South, and why food matters.

In a Q&A with the filmmaker, Grace speaks about the innate implications of food as it affects families, farmers, and communities.

Q. The film is humorous, thought-provoking, and also quite tender. Why do you think food can evoke strong emotion?

A. Food is directly connected to some of the most intense and personal memories any of us have, like family and being young. Food can be nostalgic. For those reasons, it can be difficult to talk about food as it relates to politics, ethics and economics, because you risk the conversation turning judgmental. I think this is a testament to how much people want food to simply be a comfort.

To what do you attribute the increase in curiosity about where our food comes from?

Today, many people don’t have a personal, tangible connection to anything they’re working toward on a daily basis, and I think that has led – after a couple of decades of the culture being like this – to confusion about who we are and what we’re here for. Having a direct relationship with food is one way for people to fulfill this need for connection and meaning.

What do you admire about the farmers you filmed?

The farmers I know have a sincere dedication to the land and feel that their work gives them meaning. Farmers are returning a sense of place to their communities, and they value that their work brings people together. I think that one of the biggest impacts you can have in the world is contributing to your community and being proud of that. This idea of respecting rootedness is an alternative view.

In the film, you identified the dwindling number of farmers as one of the reasons it can be hard to eat locally. How do you feel that media plays a role in getting more people involved in agriculture?

The media has to change the narrative that says farming is an uncultured profession, and that being connected to where you grew up is a sign of failure. We need to tell the real story about how communities thrive when they contain engaged farmers. I hope Eating Alabama is that kind of story. When young people tell me that Eating Alabama is a validation of their desire to be a farmer, those are the best moments for me as a filmmaker. That’s not why I made the film, but ultimately I would love to hear people say: ‘You know what? Farming is valuable, it can be cool, it’s something that really validates my life and brings me joy.'