Coming to town in just a couple weeks, as part of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, is a provocative new film that looks at the current resurgence of food cooperatives in America and their unique historic place in the economic and political landscape.
“Food For Change,” a feature-length (84 minutes) documentary from Home Planet Pictures, tells the story of the co-op movement in the U.S. through a combination of interviews, rare archival footage, and commentary by co-op leaders and historians.
No other film has examined the key role played by consumer-led food co-ops during the decades-long debate over profit-driven capitalism vs. locally controlled economic enterprises. Born in the heartland, cooperatives were seen as the middle path between Wall Street and socialism.
Filmmaker Steve Alves describes his documentary as “one part food to two parts politics to three parts economics.”
Alves tracks the co-op movement’s quest for whole and organic foods and the dream of sustainable food systems. The film profiles several existing food co-ops that have revived neighborhoods and entire communities — right in the shadow of corporate agribusiness and national supermarket chain stores.
“Today, we’re experiencing a renaissance of American food co-ops,” said Chris Maher, general manager of the BriarPatch Co-op. “These are not marginal enterprises; they are successful and dynamic businesses that are revitalizing communities across the United States. People are once again taking more control over the economic forces in their lives.”
BriarPatch contributed to the making of “Food for Change.”
But there were darker days for co-ops after World War II, Alves adds.
“Big business regained an influential role within the government, laying the groundwork for a post-war culture based on mass-production, corporate consolidation and rampant consumerism,” he said.
“Food co-ops in America were a byproduct of the Great Depression,” said co-op historian David Thompson, who is also featured in Food For Change.
“The disparity in wealth between the haves and the don’t haves was the spark that ignited co-ops. As co-ops grew, they restored hope to millions of Americans who began to gain some economic control over their lives and their communities just as co-ops are doing today.”
“Food for Change” had its world premiere at the legendary Fitzgerald Theater, in Saint Paul, Minn., Oct. 20, with simultaneous webcast to 40 co-op communities across the country. A 15-minute excerpt from “Food for Change” was screened at the United Nations last year, where it was given an award.
The film will screen at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival Jan. 11 at Yuba River Charter School.
Stephanie Mandel is the marketing manager at BriarPatch Co-op.