Thursday 19 May 2011

Indigestible: "PlanEAT"

The would-be crusading documentary PlanEAT feels very much a victim of the foodie revolution - that phenomenon which has ensured every show on Western television that isn't hung up on property prices is instead set in somebody's kitchen. It has an eminently credible frontman in Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell, whose studies suggest a link between eating meat and an increased risk of cancer, and that diets dependent upon meat are those that contribute most to atmospheric emissions - a thesis those fond of their Sunday roasts will already be vividly aware of, if research conducted in the average bathroom is anything to go by.

Yet directors Shelley Lee Davies and Or Shlomi trivialise and eventually torpedo their own argument by indulging in the cinematic equivalent of grazing - cutting away from Campbell's scholarly analysis to perky inserts shot in fancy-pants Manhattan restaurants, where chefs attempt to convince the viewer that eating leaves is fun, and that there's no need for sugar in your cupcakes. The approach is confoundingly piecemeal: there's a sense the filmmakers are simply throwing diverse ingredients into the mix, assuming some of them have to stick. Campbell is hurried through an interpretation of what sounds like a comprehensive and fascinating study of the health of Chinese labourers in the 1970s; heart patients are wheeled on to speak of recoveries aided by handfuls of grass; one chef goes into raptures over the texture of cactus nectar, while another prepares kale sandwiches. (They don't look good.)

Throughout, the thrust would seem not so much consuming less (which is surely what's required now) as towards consuming differently - imploring us to make a switch from one drain on the Earth's resources to another. (If we were all to suddenly bury our faces in the cabbage patch, would farmers - hell, would the very soil - be able to cope with the demand?) Plenty to make vegans and vegetarians everywhere smugger than they already are, and the data's sure compelling, but it's a project hopelessly blind to the fact there are times in life where one could simply murder a steak, with or without a side salad.

PlanEAT opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

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