by Jeff Nield, Vancouver, British Columbia on 01.22.09
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Whenever we report on the success of Cuba's organic and urban farming revolution we get a flurry of comments denouncing Fidel Castro and his policies. Amongst the debate a couple of readers have also pointed to this film as reason to look to Cuba for inspiration as we all approach (or fly by) peak oil.
Here is TreeHugger reader Indigo's take on the film:
It's great, inspiring, and scary. Basically, the reason they were able to successfully bring their food production up to speed without fossil-fuel based fertilizers, was because the people believed that sharing what little they DID have (food, land, resources) with each other was more important and for the greater good than hoarding it for themselves. Also the government was very encouraging, and allowed all unused urban land to be turned into incredibly productive gardens. The somewhat repressive culture they had been living in for for the last several decades allowed this team spirit to work.
How Cuba Survived Peak Oil should be watched with a suspension of political ideologies. It shows a microcosm of our possible future. Almost overnight, Cuba was thrown into a crisis by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it was average people who took it upon themselves to make sure they not only survived, but prospered.
We may not be as vulnerable to a sudden collapse of our current agricultural systems, but then again we might. If global warming kicks it up a notch or the oil runs out sooner than we thought, we might all be scrambling for a copy of this DVD to help show us how it's done. Watch this one for some inspiration.
Kelly reviewed Food Fight just before the premiere a couple of months ago. As she mentioned, there's a point in this film where it all feels a bit too elitist and you kind of feel like the director is missing the point. Don't worry, it all ties together nicely. Will Allen - who you see in the clip above - shows up to keep it real by showing how he's helping feed people in the inner city that don't traditionally have access to the variety and quality of fresh seasonal food that Michael Pollan does from his perch in Berkeley. (Pollan is one of many sustainable food system advocates making an appearance in this film.)
That being said, the history lesson on the evolution of "California cuisine" and the local food movement is interesting. It's a positive example of the trickle-down theory. Local food pioneer Alice Waters wasn't interested in high ideals when she started sourcing ingredients locally, she was looking for quality. At the time, any chef worth his salt cooked with imported ingredients from Europe. Alice changed all that with her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. Enter Wolfgang Puck down south in L.A., who had the same ideas but used his locally ingredients on pizzas, and a revolution was born.
Food Fight moves past the California love-in to an explanation of former Nixon appointed USDA head Earl Butz's "get big" agriculture policies that are often blamed for the current state of U.S. agriculture. (Butz also makes an appearance in King Corn but cuts a more sympathetic figure there as a frail 98 year-old.)
But for me, the star of the show is Allen and his organization Growing Power. He's not concerned with running a world-renowned restaurant or creating the most efficient food system in the world. Allen wants to feed people, or more to the point he wants to show people how to feed themselves.
Despite a few awkward scenes that should have been cut, director Chris Taylor does a great job of showing how a few people with vision can make a big difference. Food Fight is worth watching because it offers hope for an alternative food future.