“Go Organic!” film festival slings locally grown food and sustainable cinema   
By Gavon Laessig. Mon, Aug 20, 2007
“I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” lamented Upton Sinclair about his misunderstood, landmark polemic “The Jungle.” *

Turning Sinclair’s bellyaching on its head, the organizers of the “Go Organic!” film festival are hoping to spur social change by aiming directly for the gut. Lawrence activist group Films for Action have teamed up with national non-profit Sustainable Table to screen the Rural Route Film Festival.

The touring festival features a collection of animated and documentary shorts dealing with how what we eat—and how it’s made—impacts our bodies and our environment. Throw in free food from sustainability-conscious Lawrence eatery Local Burger and get Simran Sethi—eco-journalist and host of “The Green” on Sundance Channel—to MC the event, and you’ve got the “Go Organic!” foodie fest.

Tim Hjersted from Films for Action, Local Burger owner Hilary Brown, and Simran Sethi joined us to preview “Go Organic!” and explain why sustainable food simultaneously hits the public in the stomach and the heart. I have a diet that consists mostly of Triple Whoppers with cheese and fried Twinkies, and—when I’m not in a coma—I’m perfectly happy with that diet. Why should I consider going organic?

Hilary Brown: If you’re in a coma, I’m thinking you don’t feel so good. What Local Burger was about to me, and doing this film festival is about, is about introducing people to food that actually makes you feel good and supports an environment that’s healthy and an economy that’s healthy. I’m not out there to tell anyone what to eat, I just want them to try organic and find out how good it is—and that it’s filled with love.

Simran Sethi: Daniel Fisher was the exact sort of person you just described. He was living on a diet of a lot of fast food. What we found out when he ended up eating food that was grown and raised locally, with ingredients that were primarily organic and seasonal, was that his health improved significantly.

Hilary: He ate for 30 days at Local Burger and the results were astounding. It was the opposite of “Supersize Me,” and we taped it for the Sundance Channel and called it “Localize Me.” He lost 25 pounds, his testosterone went up 200 points, his cholesterol dropped—it was astounding.

Your testosterone really shoots up 200 points? That’s a great way to sell organic to the traditional, steak-eating cowboy.

Simran: You become way hotter.

Tim Hjersted: It makes you more of a man! I was definitely amazed. I used to eat fast food occasionally, but after going on more of a vegetarian diet where I was cooking more of my own food, when I ate at Taco Bell six months later the food made me totally sick. I ate it and my body wanted to reject it.

Kind of like a baboon heart. Those are the health benefits of going organic, but what are some of the environmental benefits?

Simran: Pesticides use extraordinarily high amounts of chemicals that are not good for us. Many of them are fossil fuel and petroleum based. People often think, “Well, it’s sprayed with pesticides but we can wash it off.” The truth of the matter is that there’s still residue that stays on the produce itself. Also, it’s going to seep into the soil and into the groundwater. We found incidences of water supplies and aquifers having residues of everything from pesticides and pharmaceuticals in them. We’re all ingesting that whether or not we want to support those kinds of industries. This isn’t just about taking care of ourselves, it’s about taking care of entire communities.

How does Local Burger, in its practices, live up to this model of sustainability?

Hilary: We try to buy all of our food local as much as possible, so that decreases the amount of fossil fuels used to get food to the restaurant and it also supports small farmers and diversity. So much of what has happened with our crops has been mono-cropping, where we’re growing only one thing. We need more diversity. Also, we don’t use any additives or chemicals, because I think we’re seeing an explosion in autoimmune disorders, children with autism and all sorts of ailments that weren’t around as much 20 years ago as a possible result from those chemicals.

Will genetically modified food someday rise up like an army of zombie vegetables and devour us all?

Tim: It is quite a possibility when you consider the idea of “terminator seeds.” These are seeds that corporations like Monsanto want to have control over, so they’ve spliced in these genes that, after the first crop, basically commit suicide so that you’re required to buy more seeds from Monsanto the next year. One, that makes you dependent on the corporation for your livelihood and, two, these seeds haven’t been fully researched. There’s still a large possibility these “terminator” genes could spread to other crops and completely change native plants and cause mass die-offs.

OK, but will corn fly off of the stock and eat our faces?

Tim: Yes.

Is the industrialization of organic setting up a conflict between organic and locally grown?

Simran: I think we always have to strive to purchase local and organic. The FDA is under tremendous pressure from all kinds of special interest groups to lax the standards for organic farming. We really need to look for what I call the “Triple Jewel”—which is local, seasonal and organic—and as much as possible strive to find foods that encompass all of those tenets. I think what we need to do is continue to be vigilant.

What is “The Meatrix,” and is it as kinky as it sounds?

Tim: It is, and I think it will blow your mind. It’s an animated short that we’re screening at “Go Organic!” that features a pig on a very nice dairy farm with chirping birds and it’s very pretty. Then Moopheus comes along and tells this pig, Leo, that this is just fictional reality, so he gives him the red pill and Leo wakes up in a factory farm. There’s troughs full of other pigs and they’re rolling around in their own mess.

Hilary: I think what’s nice about this particular series of films is that it goes from showing how we’re currently practicing our farming and agricultural methods, then it leads into wonderful documentaries about alternatives and organic farming. There’s such a stark contrast. You’re going to leave feeling good and wanting to do something different, even if it’s small. So you can get movies and basically free food. I think it’s a pretty good deal. And vegans, yes, you’ll have something to eat as well as the carnivores.

Do you ever catch any guff from militant vegans for serving delicious, delicious meats at Local Burger?

Hilary: Actually, I’m kind of ornery. Sometimes somebody will order a veggie burger and I’ll go, “Do you want bacon on that? It’s really good!”

*In “The Jungle,” Sinclair dramatized the horrific working conditions of Chicago’s meatpacking industry in the early 1900s to argue for workers' rights, but instead this book spurred food quality legislation as a result of its lurid depiction of men being ground up and processed as lard.