John Papola’s documentary At the Fork treads familiar ground: If you love animals, or are just a decent person, how can you eat meat? But his is a deeply personal and moving exploration given ballast by copious input from experts.
Papola allows his vegetarian wife, who accompanies him across the country visiting farms, to ponder that essential question and wonder aloud how her mate’s compassionate nature squares with his relish for ribs and burgers. Their visits reveal that some corporate farms are among the first to introduce more humane methods, acquiescing to emerging consumer demand, while many smaller farms, under bleak economic circumstances, don’t.
The most thoughtful farmers are also the most radical, allowing pigs and chickens to roam in the woods and the rain, though slaughter remains their ultimate fate. Papola’s film makes clear that such approaches are a revolutionary challenge to the prevailing economic and political forces in American agriculture.
Despite the complexities, though, it’s enjoyable, thanks to the crew’s substantial expertise; Papola has produced work for Nickelodeon and MTV, and his writers, editors, and cinematographer also sport topnotch credentials.
The central dilemma may be most vividly expressed by a young farmer girl, preparing to auction her pig at a state fair, who says she no longer has much of a taste for bacon. Like Papola, she serves as a stand-in for all meat-eaters, albeit one acutely aware of the sacrifice. “It kinda hurts when you see them for the last hour of their life because you’ve been so connected to them, scratching their belly,” she says. “That means something to them.”
At the Fork
Written and directed by John Papola
Opens July 8, Cinema Village