German filmmaker Doris Dorrie's loving portrait of Buddhist priest and chef Edward Espe Brown showcases his message that paying attention to the mundane processes of food production, preparation and consumption can be a gateway to larger spiritual revelations.
Dorrie eschews voice-over narration and prefers fly-on-the-wall observation to formal interviews. The film's driving force is, of course, Brown, author of the counterculture baking bible The Tassajara Bread Book. A laid-back speaker and teacher, he's devoted to mentor Suzuki Roshi who advised that "when you wash the rice, wash the rice. When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots. When you stir the soup, stir the soup" and Brown is impatient with the doctrinaire self-denial of Zen macrobiotics. Brown decries the transformation of America's food supply into a wasteland of overprocessed, nutritionally bankrupt product and preaches the message that modern life, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, is a pressure cooker of distracted behavior, filled with missed opportunities to reconnect with the universe. Cooking, he says, is an opportunity to slow down and savor the moment; eating is an opportunity to relax and share with others, rather than shovel down fast food while driving. It's hard to argue and who would want to? but it's also hard to listen to Brown's besotted acolytes spout deep-sounding drivel like, "We're cooking the food, but in terms of practice, the food is cooking us." Dorrie also interviews a freegan who embraces dumpster diving as an alternative to the excesses of consumer society, and she also visits a soup kitchen and talks to a pragmatic organic farmer who defends the use of commercial fertilizer containing animal products by observing that it's impossible to live a life of dogmatic purity. But Dorrie always comes back to Brown, whose amusement at his own parables, proclamations and shaggy-dog tales often exceeds their intrinsic humor. And when Brown reveals his dark failings he gets really mad at sponges that fall into the sink, and we see him grow increasingly frustrated with a block of shrink-wrapped cheese that resists all efforts to open it they're so benevolent that they seem like backhanded praise.
Overall, the film's message is impeccable, but the messenger is sanctimonious: Is it really productive to coach people in the pleasures of cooking vegetables while making them feel guilty because they don't grow their own? leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh