Hungry for Change: FOOD, INC.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, an outspoken leader on food safety and animal rights, hosted a special screening of the documentary, FOOD, INC. for a roomful of legislators in Sacramento. Thanks to a friend who works at the capitol, I was able to sneak in. It’d been a very long time since I’ve been surrounded by that many people wearing suits, and discussing public policy is not one of my favorite ways to make small talk (SBX2 3 or SB 135, anyone?). But seeing this important film with a roomful of legislators who were excited about sustainable food and who could actually institute change was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in a movie theatre.

You will soon be hearing a lot about FOOD, INC., a documentary directed by Robert Kenner, winner of both a Peabody and an Emmy for his previous film, Two Days in October. Opening in San Francisco on June 12, this latest release by Magnolia Pictures tackles the unenviable job of educating consumers about the agricultural industry. It’s being called the Inconvenient Truth of the food world, and the quality of its production certainly compares well. Super-saturated colors, animation, engaging graphics, a sprinkling of humor to lighten its distillation of immense amounts of information, and a line-up of articulate, passionate speakers all meld into a highly viewable documentary.

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Arepas: Homemade Flatbreads

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Ardent fans of homemade corn tortillas, papusas and pleasantly plump gorditas know that arepas belong in Latin America’s reigning family of corn-based flatbreads. A staple in Venezuela and Colombia, arepas fill the workaday cook’s most important need: foods that are easy to make and easy to use and never boring.

Early recipes required only cornmeal and water. Most cooks now season with a bit of salt, while some lean toward richer versions with milk, lard or butter in the dough. In Venezuela, arepas tend to be split and filled like sandwiches, while the thinner, leaner versions typical of Colombia are often topped with minimalist fillings for breakfast.

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Chile Lindo Empanadas

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(Photo courtesy of Myleen Hollero.)

If, from high above, you could pick up California, stretch it out thin from tip to tip and then flip it in a graceful arc over the equator, you’d have a piece of land that looks pretty much like Chile. Last month, CEOs and politicians met in Santiago to discuss Plan Chile-California, a trade agreement that would create a “partnership for the 21st century” in areas such as education, energy and agriculture.

For the past 10 years, though, Paula Tejeda has been quietly working her own brand of business development and cultural exchange, one empanada at a time, in San Francisco’s Mission District. Stroll by the Redstone Building on any Saturday or Sunday to taste for yourself her efforts to connect Chile and California.

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Duc Loi Supermarket

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A shopper at Duc Loi Supermarket carefully selects large chunks of freshly fried chicharrones, while rendered lard begins solidifying on the counter nearby.   

For over twenty years, seven days a week, Howard and Amanda Ngo have sold fresh, affordable produce and a quirky blend of both Latin American and Asian ingredients at the heart of the Mission District.

Looking for purple corn and whole-blossom jamaica in bulk? They have it. Ube yam and cashew fruit and banana leaves in the freezer section? Check. Dried peruvian beans or dried tofu nuggets? Check. Goat ribs and ox tails and whole, fresh pig heads? It’s all there at the meat counter. Young, watery coconuts chilled and ready to hack open for sipping on a sunny afternoon? Most definitely yes.

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Event: Taste of Tamales By The Bay

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Slim as a finger or big as a fist, wrapped in papery corn husks or supple banana leaves, sweet as spring or spicy as summer — the humble tamal in all its forms and flavors has become the star of an annual fundraising event in San Francisco. Taste of Tamales By the Bay will be coming again to the Fort Mason Center on Sunday, April 26, 2009.

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