What's On Your Plate

By Terri Taylor
Photography courtesy of whatsonyourplateproject.org

Which burns faster: a marshmallow, a walnut or a Funyun? And why should we care? In their delightful film What’s on Your Plate? Sadie Hope-Gund and Safiyah Riddle, two inquisitive “tweens” from New York City, set out on a yearlong quest to find simple answers to big food questions. Where does our food come from? What’s good for us to eat? Why is there food that’s not good for us?

With the help of Sadie’s mom, filmmaker Catherine Gund, and a diverse group of food experts that includes writer Anna Lappé, Chef Bryant Terry and poet Idris Goodwin, the girls cut giant issues into small, digestible bites—an appetizing film for the entire family.

Sixth-graders Sadie and Safiyah have been best friends since the fourth grade. They both have little brothers and infectious giggles. The idea for their film was planted when the girls were visiting Sadie’s extended family in rural Ohio. One night, as they made the evening salad, they tasted some amazing cherry tomatoes. This prompted Sadie’s mom to ask if the girls wanted to meet the farmer who grew them, and the path to the film blossomed. I recently spoke with the budding young activists and found out more about the girls behind the film.

TT: Those tomatoes you tasted on your vacation sounded yummy. How were they different from the ones you’d eaten before?

They were fresh. The real deal. Straight from the farm.

And we got to meet the farmer and pick more.

TT: Have either of you seen Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on television?

Sadie: No, my mom told me about it though.

TT: Chef Jamie meets kids who can’t distinguish a tomato from a potato, never mind beets from broccoli.

Sadie: It’s not that those kids aren’t smart. They’re just naive.

Safiyah: They haven’t been exposed to fresh foods or farms.

TT: I read somewhere that you considered making a film about “bad” vegetarians. My son was one of those. He didn’t eat meat, but he didn’t eat vegetables, either.

Sadie: “Carboterians”—kids who eat mostly pizza, pasta, potatoes and bread.

TT: You were born into a family of vegetarians, Safiyah, and have remained vegetarian. Sadie, do you eat meat?

Sadie: No, I’ve been a vegetarian since fourth grade.

Safiyah: [laughs] Yeah, she wanted to be more like me.

TT: You discovered when you were younger, Sadie, that you had high cholesterol, a genetically linked condition in your case. It’s fortunate that you found out early and got it under control.

Sadie: Yes, it’s good now. My family eats really healthy—no red meat. Living in the city, we walk a lot.

TT: The quality of food in your public schools seems fairly good. At least the administration is trying.

Sadie: Well, our school food still isn’t that appealing. I think they moved the salad bar into the kitchen. No one can find it.

Safiyah: When the choice is between Snapple and milk, sometimes there’s this little voice that says, “Take the sugary Snapple.”

Sadie: But we didn’t want our film to be preachy. Kids get preached to enough as it is.

TT: In the film, you spend time at farmers markets and with farmers like the Angel family. Was it more fun to plant or harvest?

Safiyah: Digging up the carrots was the most fun. You pull out this bright orange thing that’s been hiding underground, and it’s delicious.

Sadie: I wish all kids had that opportunity. The Angels have their own CSA [community-supported agriculture] program now. We belong to it.

TT: I liked your food-burning experiment in Mr. Carpenter’s science class. It really illustrated the point about empty calories. A walnut burns longer and gives you more energy than a marshmallow or, heaven forbid, a Funyun.

Sadie: Some things satisfy your hunger but don’t give you fuel. You might drink an energy drink, then crash an hour later and crave something else.

TT: What advice would you give to kids who are trying to be healthier?

Safiyah: Just take little steps. You don’t have to do it all in a day.

Sadie: Most people give up because they try to change everything too fast.

What’s on Your Plate? DVD is available through video-rental companies, on Amazon.com and in libraries. Chipotle Mexican Grill will sponsor additional screenings during the year in schools and community centers throughout the country. whatsonyourplateproject.org