As community food issues become more ingrained in cultural and political dialogue, the Tribeca Film Institute is taking up the issues with America’s next generation. Tonight, the organization kicks off the Tribeca Youth Screening Series 2013 From the Ground Up: Community Food and Justice, a documentary series that aims to teach students at 11 public schools in New York and New Jersey about issues like hunger, the dominance of corn, child labor, and health.
Timing is apt given current debates surrounding farming, GMOs, and SNAP, but education engagement coordinator Flonia Telegrafi says she also wanted to make sure “that young people know where their food comes from, what exactly is in their food and become more knowledgeable and aware of the role they play in the specific food system.”
Working with the Newark Office of Film and Television, established by Newark’s vegetarian mayor, Cory Booker, the series will involve schools in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. And while this isn’t the first year the program has been run, it will be the first for students at schools like the Newark Paulo Freire School, a high school already outfitted with its owner community garden in a nearby converted lot.
Tonight’s screening of the 2012 documentary A Place at the Table will be followed by a panel discussion on food justice and issues of equitable and sustainable food systems. This first film, which includes appearances by Hollywood heavyweight Jeff Bridges and chef Tom Colicchio, examines hunger through the perspective of three individuals struggling with food insecurity. On October 22, students will view King Corn, a 2007 documentary looking at the ever-growing role that corn plays in the American food system, with an eye on the government subsidies that make this possible. La Cosecha / The Harvest, scheduled for November 14, is a 2010 documentary especially relevant to this audience: It focuses on children as young as 12 working in agriculture in conditions that include exposure to heat, pesticides, and other dangers. Finally, Soul Food Junkies, showing on December 9, ties the soul food tradition to black cultural identity while also looking at the negative health impacts of eating too much of it.
But while teaching teenagers about the food system can broaden their awareness of the world around them as well as their understanding of the meals on their plates, getting them to change their eating habits may prove more difficult. After all, they are not usually the ones doing the grocery shopping or preparing family dinners. Still, Telegrafi is optimistic about the potential impact. “Just because they’re teenagers doesn’t mean that they don’t have a voice and they can’t formulate their own opinions,” she says. And administrators may want to watch out. She adds, “I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody walks away from this particular series and takes up the issue with their school administration and asks for better lunches.”