Northern filmmakers travel from Tuktoyaktuk to the tropical valleys of Hawaii in a new documentary that explores the power of food as community activism.
The documentary, Food for the Rest of Us, is directed by Caroline Cox and produced by Tiffany Ayalik and Jerri Thrasher. It follows previous collaborations between Cox and Ayalik – both from the Northwest Territories – such as Wild Kitchen, which profiled people harvesting wild food and living off the land.
Meeting harvesters and farmers across the territory led them to examine how food producers elsewhere support and feed their communities.
People at “the very front of this food justice and sovereignty movement, and using food for activism, are often the most marginalized and underrepresented people,” Ayalik said.
“People who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, people in the queer community, newcomers, people who often have a lot of systematic barriers to overcome, are using food not only as liberation, but as a way to be speaking out against the injustices that many people are facing through food.”
The documentary follows four food producers.
Eric Person is a Black Indigenous farmer in Kansas City using food to highlight the impacts of systemic racism on his community. In Hawaii, an organic farm hosts an internship program to teach Indigenous youth how to produce food sustainably.
In Colorado, a Mexican-Jewish butcher named Tzuria Malpica works to provide a safe space for women and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community to learn survival skills and animal husbandry. The film also travels to Tuktoyaktuk, where Inuvialuit Elder Marjorie Ovayuak speaks about the impacts of climate change on the community and traditional diets.
“It’s geographically very spread out, but then it’s really interesting, the juxtaposition of grassroots, community, or individual efforts,” Cox said. “It’s big and small at the same time, in a way.”
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution
The production, which began in 2019, is funded by the NWT Film Commission, NWT Arts Council, and a $20,000 grant through actor Robert Redford’s environmental organization, the Redford Centre.
Food for the Rest of Us is the first feature film made by Cox or Ayalik.
“What we have done has been kind-of lower-budget, and so we’ve been really scrappy, really resourceful,” Cox said, describing the act of making the documentary during the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think our naïveté, or our lack of experience, might have actually helped us in the long run.”
Cox and Ayalik said disparities highlighted by the pandemic are echoed in the film.
“We’re recognizing the fragility of these systems and who doesn’t have access to food … as is represented by who is being affected by Covid,” Ayalik said.
“Yes, we’re all in the same storm, but we are definitely not all in the same boat, and we’re not weathering this in the same ways.”
The filmmakers say their production questions the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” solution to food security and sovereignty.
“Everyone should just stop eating meat is something that we hear a lot, and that’s not going to work in the High Arctic,” Ayalik said. “Meat and harvesting are a very integral part, not only culturally, but … part of what works in the North.
“To paint the brush for everybody in the same colour is not actually the simple fix that we would like it to be, because what’s the cost of sending tofu up to the Northwest Territories? What’s the cost of vegetarian options on the planet when things like almond milk are very much contributing to droughts in California, and to the bee population going down?
“I think this film is doing the very important work of highlighting that we need diversity of options when it comes to helping the planet and helping to feed people who don’t have access to food. We need to be taking the lead from them, because they’re the experts in their own experience.”
The film will have its world premiere at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, which runs from May 6 to 16. All films on this year’s roster will be streamed online on the festival website, meaning people across Canada can watch Food for the Rest of Us.
Ayalik and Cox said the film should be a call to action for audiences. The film’s website offers education resources and suggestions for getting involved in local agriculture.
“We’re really hoping people are inspired – whether you live with a huge acreage somewhere, or you live in a condo in Toronto – that you can, in even small ways, be a little bit more mindful and more connected to your food,” Cox said.
Ayalik added: “It’s not just food. It’s justice, it’s liberation, it’s history, it’s decolonization.
“It’s so many things all wrapped up into one, and it can be delicious and nourishing at the same time.”