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Culture and Cuisine. 26 minutes, 1986. Films for the Humanities.

REVIEW of My Father's Garden

This 1986 television broadcast examines the transitioning food system in the United States that was, even then, dominated by fast food restaurants and supermarketsí amazing abundance of prepared foods. In response to these kinds of foods, our eating habits are also changing - we are more likely to skip out on the family meal and eat alone on the run, for instance. While this program is over two decades old, the issues it presents are just as relevant today, if not more so.

The broadcast is broken up into two parts. The first half focuses on how our food choices impact our cultural practices and what this might mean for our future society. Along with nutritionists and dieticians, renowned anthropologist Sidney Mintz weighs in on the role that mass-produced and overly processed food products now play in our daily lives how that can affect our social lives and our health. The second half incorporates a roundtable discussion that looks more deeply into these issues from three different perspectives. An anthropologist, a spokesman from the Center of Science in the Public Interest, and a spokesman from Campbellís Soup Company are all invited to offer their viewpoints on our changing diet and meal patterns. An inevitable heated debate ensues.

It is important to note that diet related diseases like obesity and diabetes had not yet become commonplace discussion that they are today. Therefore, there is minimal reference in the program to the extreme health problems that we now realize result in part from a diet fast-food, sugary cereals and other highly processed foods. Additionally, the broadcast neglects to show the struggles of small and medium sized farmers in a food system that is increasingly dominated by a select few companies. Farmersí struggles were indeed occurring in the mid 80ís when the program was made, however, its focus on health and cultural change is aimed more directly at the time-crunched urban and suburban American.

Culture and Cuisine does offer something of a valuable relic from an earlier time in our transitioning food system. Through it, we learn that the questions and issues that the present-day media raises about our food system have been around awhile. Because of various news programs, best-selling books and popular documentary films, average citizens are becoming more and more aware of the chemicals sprayed on our fruits and vegetables, the inhumane treatment of livestock, and the decline of Americaís rural towns. With Culture and Cuisine, we can gain some historical depth of the growing conversation around what we are eating and how our food is produced in America. Some of the more recent films and books contributing to this conversation are listed below.

Selected Resources:

Food Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Film.

King Corn. Dir. Aaron Woolf. ITVS, 2007. Film.

Pollan, Michael. In defense of food: An eaterís manifesto. New York: The Penguin Press, 2008. Print.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.

Super Size Me. Dir. Morgan Spurlock. Kathbur Pictures, 2004. Film.

Lia Spaniolo
Michigan State University

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for Culture and Cuisine:

1. What are your reactions to the topics discussed in the program?

2. Which issues presented are still relevant and discussed in our current conversations about the American diet?

3. What topics or issues would be included in a similar program if one was made today?

4. Does the program address issues that are outdated and no longer relevant today?

5. What is the American diet as presented in the program doing to our physical health?

6. How is the changing American diet affecting the way we socialize and interact with one another?

7. Can you think of some reasons why our diet has been changing so drastically in the last 50 years?

8. What did you think of the roundtable discussion in the second half? Were the perspectives equally and fairly presented? Why of why not?

9. What is your view of the American diet? Is in line with what the program presents? Does the food you eat regularly reflect this diet or is it different?

10. Would it be easy or difficult to change your eating habits? Why is this?

11. Why is culture so important to what and how we eat?

Questions by
Lia Spaniolo

in cooperation with
Michigan State University
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