The local food trend is sweeping the nation, and a big part of that can be traced back to Westchester. The Academy Award nominated film Food Inc., which by the way sold more DVDs on Amazon last year than any the movie, was directed and produced by the accomplished Rob Kenner of Mamaroneck. Check out our exclusive interview:
On his school days…
Hailing originally from Mamaroneck, NY, Rob Kenner boarded at Solebury School in New Hope, PA back in the 60s. As with many artists, nothing is “black-and-white” with Kenner, or “Robby” as he so warmly introduced himself. He isn’t quite sure when he evolved into a full-fledged film-maker, but knows that at some point during his formative years in high school, he transformed from movie lover to movie maker. By the age of eighteen, he was a full-fledged film-maker.
On the blockbuster movie…
If you have seen the movie (trailer below), you will know that while the movie lifts the veil on certain aspects of the food industry that have been hidden away from the public (cloned meats, genetically modified soy beans and the over-subsidization of corn to name just a few), the broader message is more about the right to know what is in the food we eat. As Kenner points out, “It’s food, but it’s really more than food. It’s really about corporate power…It’s systemic. There is something wrong that these people have such power. People have become, ultimately, indentured servants rather than farmers.” When you zoom out (like with a movie camera, get it?) beyond the detailed issues and look at the system as a whole, Kenner points out that America is “backing wealthy corporations who make food that make us sick.”
The most disastrous part of the system, in Kenner’s mind, is that the government is actually subsidizing the ingredients in unhealthy food. The more-than-substantial U.S. investment in corn, for example, is the reason that you will find corn as an ingredient in nearly every packaged food product on the market (high-fructose corn syrup anyone?). You can even trace its effect to perishable food! It is cheaper for farmers to feed corn to cows than grass, yet cows are not made to process corn, which leads to a long laundry list of issues. The movie shows very poignantly suggests that until government subsidization is removed from the equation, until the playing field has been leveled, it is very difficult for Americans to make radical changes in the way they eat. “We get to vote three times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Kenner points out. It may not have an overnight effect, but eventually the system will adapt.
When Kenner chose food as a subject to examine more than six years ago, he did not realize that he was heading directly into a tornado. Kenner was not fully aware of the momentum that the movement away from processed food had already gathered, and Food Inc. seemed to fall into place at just the right time. “Food turned out to be just an incredible subject,” says Kenner. Two years after the film’s release, Kenner is still touring the nation as a guest speaker.
“I remember the apple cider here, growing up,” says Kenner, “It’s a memory of a distinct taste of a local product that was very special.” Which is ironic, since fast food companies like McDonald’s gained worldwide success by doing just the opposite. No matter where in the world you go, a McDonald’s hamburger looks exactly the same. It’s just the opposite of celebrating everything that is special about delicacies of your local environment.
In this day in age, we are fortunate enough to not only have people like Rob Kenner who shed light on hidden wrongdoings, but we have the Internet. A place that allows us access to virtually any source of information we choose. So if we cannot trust the FDA, who cam we trust? Kenner recommends Slow Food, Food & Water Watch, Grist and Food Democracy Now.
More facts from Food Inc. here.
“I consider myself more a film maker than a food expert,” say Kenner. When examining his subjects, he of course learns a lot along the way. His past subjects are wide-ranging, from the Czars of Russia, to the Vietnam War, to Blues Music. He has produced and directed for both National Geographic and PBS. He went ‘off course,’ so to speak, for a period of time; a time in which he worked in the production of major Hollywood pictures. Exciting to some maybe, but Kenner’s heart belonged to documentaries. “I didn’t love them, he says, about Hollywood features. “[I] felt like I was just ‘visiting.’ It was very hard for me to make decisions on things I didn’t feel I cared about. As where on Food Inc. I was very passionate, I cared so deeply about it, it was easy to keep on going.” Kenner’s advice is to find something you can believe in (and we AGREE!!).
“To put other themes into subjects…to always have big issues lurking in the background, I think makes subjects more interesting. It could be about one thing but it’s really about more than just that.” That’s the genius of Kenner’s well-honed craft; Kenner manages to weave very important themes into movies in a way in which the viewer does not feel prodded into one particular direction. Rather, Kenner’s style leads the viewer to arrive at his or her own “aha!” moment.
I personally saw many parallels between Robert Kenner, the film-maker, and thoe of us out there who have taken the entrepreneurial route. Perhaps Kenner’s most poignant advice to me personally was about allowing yourself to fail. “Sometimes there are missteps, you have to be ready to fail. I had some sure shots that didn’t work out…” I think this is advice that is universal.
So What’s Next?
Look for Robert Kenner’s new project, When Strangers Click on HBO, around Valentine’s Day 2011. Kenner tells BH that When Strangers Click is all abour social media and how we meet people today. Rob Kenner has only begun to dazzle us with his stories.
Food Inc. Trailer:
Rob Kenner on organics:
Robert Kenner on CNN: