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Eat at Bill's: Life in the Monterey Market. 67 minutes, 2007. By Lisa Brenneis. $19.95.


REVIEW of Eat at Bill's: Life in the Monterey Market

Bill Fujimoto is the owner and persona of the Monterey Market in Berkeley, California. The life and energy of this all-produce market is delightfully captured in this film by Lisa Brenneis who, being one of the marketís fruit suppliers, was inspired by its aura and by Billís enthusiasm. She traces a year at The Monterey Market from the springís early fruit season to the fall harvest and the Thanksgiving rush. What emerges is an endearing glimpse of the vibrant community surrounding the bounty of Californiaís agricultural produce.

Since Bill and his brother rejoined their father in the family business in 1968, the Monterey Market expanded in size and reputation. He intentionally sources his produce from small-scale growers all over the region knowing that these farmers can supply excellent and a wide variety of crops. Some of these growers and their farms are highlighted in the film, and they all speak highly of Billí generosity, optimism and passion for his work. Many of the growersí successes depend on Billís devotion to supporting local agriculture.

Life in the Monterey Market, as the subtitle states, is truly captured in this film. It offers a rare look at the business transactions between Bill and his suppliers. We are able to witness farmers meeting Bill for the first time in hopes of selling their produce at the market. Because of itís reputation, and possibly because of Billís earnest commitment to supporting growers, the market is bursting at the seams with a great variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Amazingly, the produce sells quickly due to the bustle of people who are drawn to the market. Shoppersí curiosities and adorations for the unique and rare offerings are documented in the film. We become aware of the distance people will travel and the grocery lists they bring with them to shop here. We also meet some of Californiaís best restaurateurs, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who shop at Monterey Market for their chefs to creatively prepare for their patrons.

Eat at Billís is a lush and appetizing celebration of Billís Monterey Market and its community. Some might see it as fetishizing food, but its success is ultimately tied to the shoppers who have the capacity and willingness to pay for its top of the line produce. The film deemphasizes deeper issues that may prevent a market like this from thriving in other communities where income may be lower or small-scale growers have difficulty surviving. The filmís brief interview with Michael Pollan touches on the technical difficulties of one market doing business with so many suppliers, but this is really the only reference to broader political issues. The film seems to be simply recognizing the rare and special qualities of the Monterey Market and is paying tribute to Billís gusto and business sense for making this market the success that it is.

Supplemental Resources

Eating at the Monterey Market would surely encourage the kind of eating habits that Michael Pollanís In Defense of Food is suggesting. The book discusses the sheer volume of choices, most of it unhealthy, that we are bombarded with at the average supermarket and how the health conscious eater can rise above it. It may also be useful to pair this film with a viewing of CBSís 60 Minutes interview with Alice Waters, whose restaurant, like Monterey Market, is located in Berkeley, California. The interview offers a more critical look at equal food access and the deep pockets that are often needed to eat locally grown and organic foods.

Streeter, R. 60 Minutes: Alice Watersí Crusade for Better Food. [Television broadcast]. New York, NY: Central Broadcasting Service. Aired June 10, 2009.

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eaterís Manifesto. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2008. Print.

Lia Spaniolo
Michigan State University

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for Eat at Bill's: Life in the Monterey Market:

1. What foods would you be most excited to shop for at the Monterey Market?

2. What do you think brings people to shop at this market instead of another grocery store?

3. Why are Billís suppliers so enthusiastic about selling their produce at Monterey Market and doing business with Bill?

4. What might be some of the reasons why this market, with humble beginnings, became so successful and earned such a good reputation among growers and shoppers alike?

5. What are Billís values and principles for running his business? Why are these important?

6. Would the Monterey Market be easily replicated elsewhere in the U.S.? Why or why not?

7. Based on the filmís depiction, is there anyone that might be unintentionally excluded from shopping at a market like the Monterey Market? If so, why and how could it be more inclusive?

8. There was a time in America when everyone got their food from local markets that sold produce from small-scale and local farmers. Does the Monterey Market only represent a tribute from the past or can it also be the future of our food system?

9. What would it be like if today everyone shopped and ate from local markets like Americans did 200 years ago?

10. What kinds of benefits come from eating at Billís market and from being a part of this community?

11. Can you think of a similar market in your community that shares some of the characteristics of Billís market?

12. What can you and your community do to support or start a market like Billís?

13. Are there other ways to source food besides such a market that might serve the same purposes (provide the same social goods)?

Questions by
Lia Spaniolo

in cooperation with
Michigan State University
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