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Ingredients (2009): The Best Food Documentary You Will See This Year

Ingredients (Robert Bates, 2009)


A series of stills from the film adorn the movie poster.

Think globally, eat locally.
photo credit: Amazon

I saw Ingredients in May of 2012. I finally started writing this review fifteen months later. I have no idea why it has taken me so long; of all the documentaries that tread this ground I’ve seen over the past couple of years (there have been roughly a half-dozen of them), Ingredients is by far the best, and the one that comes most highly recommended from this camp. I just never found any sort of “in” I could use to start writing about it, but now I’m at the point where I’m forcing myself to catch up with all the old reviews that should have gotten written months ago and never did. I guess my “in” is “get your ass in gear, you lazy bum, and say something about Ingredients.”


A radio is suspended over a number of patches of growing food in a still from the film.

“The carrots like Bach, but the lettuce responds better to Shostakovich.”
photo credit:

Most food-based documentaries these days start from the same basic premise: the American system of food production is broken. Some documentaries, mostly the inferior ones, simply use that as a springboard to attack what they see as the underlying problem. Therein lies their failure, at least in part: the idea that there is one underlying problem (increasingly, for lazy filmmakers, that is “oh, no, GMO!”) rather than a pervasive attitude, a system that infects everything from the growing to the distribution to the consumption. Given such a broken system, is it possible to find a solution? It is, and it’s as easy as doing things the way we did things just a few decades ago, before it was as simple as it is today to fly foods around the globe or drive them across the country: eat what foods you can from providers as close to you as possible. Bates interviews a handful of farmers who have played key roles in vitalizing the locavore movement and lets the idea sell itself.

A farmer carries a load of waste out to the compost heap in a still from the film.

“But using radish tops as compost feels like…cannibalism.”
photo credit:

It might not have been the best way to go with this documentary—I’ve seen more than one review that called it pale (I even saw one that compared it unfavorably to the awful, awful Food Inc., so at least I know how much I can trust that reviewer’s opinions in the future)—but I thought it did the trick pretty well; it covered the ground without hammering the viewer into the dust, which is not something I can say about more than a few of the foodie docs I’ve watched over the past couple of years. Pity those who think a documentary isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t pound the viewer into the ground. And then avoid their reviews. (This is all relative, of course, I wouldn’t be silly enough to try and posit the movie as having a light touch.) In short, well worth giving it a look; if it’s not strident enough for you, asparagus knows there are enough other choices out there catering to the velvet-hammer crowd. *** ½



About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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