Nourishing Hero: Ana Sofia Joanes

In our Nourishing Heroes series, we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us with food that nourishes body, soul and planet. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on NOURISH Evolution? Let us know who inspires you!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jamie Yuenger of FRESH: The Movie as part of their Women Nourish Us blog series. This week, the tables turned and I spoke with Ana Sofia Joanes, the woman who directed and produced the movie.

FRESH focuses on America’s food system in a way that’s a bit more approachable and positive than a film like Food, Inc. I found it to be a great introduction to the main issues and opportunities on our plate today and was thrilled to see that FRESH is offering home screening licenses; a revolutionary concept in the indie film world. (And … the FRESH folks are offering a generous special for NOURISH Evolution members – get 20% off by entering the code ‘nourishnetwork’ — click here to host a home screening)

Ana’s worldview was first cast when she was eighteen on a trip around the world to study, first hand, the impacts of globalization. “It was an eye opening trip in that we not only learned an alternative perspective, but also got to see our own preconceptions.” The experience taught Ana to read between the lines of what we’re told and what’s really happening.

She developed that critical mindset further in law school, but tipped towards the creative when she founded Reel Youth, Inc., a video production company dedicated to underserved youth. “I’d come to find that it was hard to share ideas. I found that I could be sitting around the table with people and we could agree intellectually, but it didn’t change behavior. I got to feeling that telling stories could be central to changing people’s perspective.”

Ana eventually stepped into the role of filmmaker herself, first with a documentary on mental illness and medication, and then with FRESH. But she bristles at the thought of preaching through her films. “I want people to be open, to connect to the story emotionally where it hits them.” Which is one of the reasons FRESH has such a varied cast of characters. “We all come to the food movement for different reasons. As a filmmaker, I look for characters to tell the narrative.”

In that way, the messages we hear in the media take shape and form in the film. “Organic farming” becomes bucolic moments on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. “Buy locally” looks like David Ball, owner of a small supermarket who sources from local farms. “Sustainably-raised meat” is the gripping story of Russ Kremer, a former industrial hog farmer who has changed his ways and now raises hogs naturally, with no antibiotics. And “making food accessible” becomes the charismatic Will Allen of Growing Power and his mission to teach city folk how to farm (you should see people’s faces when he urges them to play with worms).

All these stories weave together a rich depiction of our food system—where it’s failing and where there’s hope. “Yes, I wanted FRESH to have facts. But even more so I wanted to reach people’s hearts.”

But Ana doesn’t consider her job done just because the movie’s complete. “I think it’s important to link my work with the end result.” So she and her team developed a way to turn inspiration into action and help people connect with their communities. They pioneered a licensing model that allows people to purchase the film for $29.95 and host a screening in their own home.

“What FRESH does is get people inspired, hopeful and ready to do something. We wanted to find a way to galvanize that energy.” The hope is that the film will spark conversation and action (join a CSA anyone?) amongst small groups, with a ripple effect into communities and, ideally, society at large. FRESH is about food, yes, but it’s also about “revitalizing local economies. These conversations are central to our society and economic well-being.”

Click here to order a copy of FRESH and host a screening in your own home. Enter ‘nourishnetwork’ as the discount code and get 20% off!

Here’s a question for you … would you like us to put together a FRESH menu you could make for your get-togethers? Leave a comment here and let us know.

Meet our other Nourishing Heroes:

Nourishing Heroes: Food Advocates Curt Ellis & Ian Cheney

This is the latest installment in our Nourishing Heroes series, in which we feature the individuals and organizations who inspire us with food that nourishes body, soul and planet. Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on NOURISH Evolution? Let us know who inspires you!

If you attended Yale University about 10 years ago, you may have crossed paths with Curt Ellis (above left) and Ian Cheney (right), members of the class of 2002 who combined a passionate commitment to consciousness-raising with a flair for the dramatic. To underscore students’ desire for Yale’s cafeterias to serve food that was minimally processed, pesticide-free and grown in a responsible manner, the two and their cohorts released live sheep onto the campus quad and brought in kiddie pools filled with manure.

“Part of it was to have fun,” Ellis now acknowledges, “but there were definitely politics involved.”

The Brooklyn-based pair has since gone on to interweave politics, advocacy and entertainment in their careers, most notably through the founding of their production company Wicked Delicate Films. Their 2004 release King Corn, produced and directed by Ellis’ cousin Aaron Woolf, followed the duo as they grew an acre of corn in Iowa and then traced its movement through America’s industrial food system. The film picked up a prestigious Peabody Award, and it came out when the cultural zeitgeist was beginning to focus on the multifaceted perils of what’s now referred to as Big Ag.

Ellis says books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation and documentary SuperSize Me were all part of this same general movement toward greater transparency in food production, and within a few years, the growing public consciousness surrounding food issues suddenly picked up enormous traction. King Corn both reflected, and advanced, this burgeoning food consciousness.

Today, Ellis and Cheney work together on several advocacy programs and tour the country speaking at conferences and on college campuses. Each is also the point person for their newest slate of projects.

Ellis, for his part, is a founding member of FoodCorps, a national AmeriCorps public service initiative that will train a fresh generation of young people to work in school gardens, implement farm-to-cafeteria programs and lead nutrition education projects at sites across the country.

“We love working on something that can make such a tangible difference,” he says. “FoodCorps basically provides a troop surge in the response to the obesity epidemic.” (FoodCorps’ first host sites will be selected on Nov. 17.)

Cheney, meanwhile, is focusing on Truck Farm, a new documentary, slated to premiere this winter, that features the 1986 Dodge pick-up his grandfather gave him when he graduated from college. (It’s the same truck Cheney and Ellis drove to Iowa to shoot King Corn.) Cheney has since turned the truck into a green-roofed mobile garden with 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables, including serrano and poblano peppers, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, okra, chard, kale, lettuce and a wide variety of herbs. Truck Farm (the vehicle) has traveled to 40 schools up and down the eastern seaboard, up the steps of the U.S. Botanic Garden and to the USDA in Washington, D.C. The pair uses the pickup to get people excited about how easy it is to grow food themselves.

The documentary, produced with the help of crowd-sourced funding from Kickstarter and a generous grant from the sustainable clothing company Nau, tells the story of how people around the country grow food in innovative places.

Ultimately, Ellis says, he and Cheney want to inspire America’s young people to pick up shovels and garden or farm–and to see that choice as a dignified one.  The most important message, though, he adds, is: “It’s OK for food advocacy to be fun.”

Meet our other Nourishing Heroes:

Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.