Middle Row, Centre: Using Food to Make a Village Healthy Again

I have a friend, a long-time Yukoner, who returned to live in her native France last year.

I plan to visit her next summer in her new home nestled beneath the Cevennes Mountains, where she gardens in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of south-central France.

A scant half–hour drive southwest of her is the village of Barjac, where a crusading mayor has initiated a radical approach to the local food system that is the subject of a powerful documentary playing this Friday at the Alpine Bakery.

Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution tells the story of Barjac’s 1,400 residents, their socialist mayor, Edouard Chaulet, and the transformation of the village’s food production and distribution to an organic economy.

France has long been thought of as a haven for good quality food and wine, but the reality is that the country is the number one user of pesticides in all Europe, and the second or third heaviest user in the world, employing 76,000 tons annually, with 90 per cent of it used in agricultural applications.

This fact, as Food Beware reveals, has left the country with a mounting toll of cancer mortality exceeding other European countries. The rate of cancer in French males, for instance, has increased by 93 per cent in 25 years.

Drastic situations sometimes call for drastic measures. Faced with the prospect of the first generation of children in history growing up less healthy than their parents, Barjac’s mayor started with the children in his bold bid to turn things around.

The film’s French title, appropriately, is Nos Enfants Nous Accuseront – Our Children Will Accuse Us.

The village administration agreed to turn the central cafeteria, serving the local elementary school population, into an all-organic facility.

Children became involved in planting and harvesting their own vegetables, local farmers were enlisted to keep the cafeteria supplied with toxin-free produce, and funds were diverted from the municipal budget to help subsidize the increased cost of organic foods on the school lunch menu.

“It’s not just about eating differently,” says Mayor Chaulet. “It’s something that’s had an impact throughout the village, on the farmers, on the shopkeepers, on the baker, on the behaviour of families, and on councillors.”

Indeed, the village’s reaction to the new food regime has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and the demand to produce 200 to 400 school meals a day has been a shot in the arm for local farmers, encouraging them to increase their organic production to the point where it becomes economically practical.

The film features interviews with local residents who talk about incidences of cancer in their own families, but also about the new hope that their organic diets are producing.

One peach farmer tells us that he employed no fewer than 22 different chemicals in raising his crop. There’s a telling comparison, as another farmer shows us the soil of his organic grape vineyard, then that of his neighbour.

His soil is living – dark, clumpy and full of worms and wormholes, allowing oxygen and rain to penetrate. His neighbour’s is dead, packed and stratified, allowing the pesticide that’s applied to run off with the rain into streams and rivers.

Food Beware is a telling testimony to the fact that we can change the way we produce our food and feed ourselves when the political will is there. The film provides a viable blueprint for engendering a society that fosters healthy and socially responsible organic food production within its communities.

Food Beware screens at 7:30 pm Friday, November 12 at Alpine Bakery, as part of the monthly Alpine Film Night series of outstanding documentary features. Admission is by donation.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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