It seems like every month someone launches a new eating experiment. Whether it’s eating only food grown within 100 miles for a year, growing an entire family’s food supply on an acre in Appalachia, or raising corn in the Midwest, the modern food movement has been shaped around many such specific, time-bound efforts.
The new film Eating Alabama starts out along similar lines, as filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace and his wife Rashmi return to their home state of Alabama to film a yearlong attempt to eat locally and seasonally. In the process, Andrew sifts through family photos of farms long buried under suburbia, and travels the state interviewing the farmers scraping by in present day Alabama. The result is a film that artfully combines one family's story with an in-depth look at a group of small farmers committed to rebuilding the local food system in the South.
In addition to “plantation crops” like cotton and peanuts, Alabama is a major meat producer. The state has the third-largest broiler (chicken) industry in the nation, with over 1 billion birds and 2 billion eggs sold annually and livestock and poultry combined accounting for four-fifths of the commodities sold in the state. Many of the small farmers shown in the film are diversifying, and moving away from this model -- raising livestock with alternative methods, but also growing greens and cultivating orchards.
We caught up with Grace to discuss the film, the story it sheds light on, and the way Alabama fits into the larger picture of today’s agriculture.