Gene Siskel once wrote that “Two things are not debatable: eroticism, and comedy. If you don't think it's sexy, or funny, there's no way I can change your mind.” After watching the documentary “Planeat,” I realized that we have to add food to the Siskel equation: “If you don't think it looks tasty, nobody will convince you otherwise.”
The term “food pornography” has been used to describe many culinary-themed TV shows and films, but “Planeat” is the first foodie doc that ever really set me to thinking about porn. Imagine, for example, that you are a foot fetishist who wants to direct a scene that will really turn on an audience. You are, quite naturally, going to direct a scene featuring feet, maybe feet torqued at an oblique angle, feet bound into a really tight high-heeled shoe, or perhaps just some good old-fashioned dripping wet feet. You intend this to be steamy hot because it's steamy hot to you, but viewers who don't share your fetish are going to be bored stiff - or not stiff, as the case might be.
Directors Shelley Lee Davies and Or Shlomi are faced with this challenge as they try to craft a promotional documentary for the vegetarian lifestyle. They have plenty of facts to support their argument that a plant-based diet is the only healthy and responsible choice, but they know if they're going to make a successful movie about it, they need something a little more sensual to seduce the viewer. This is the only explanation I can think of for the seemingly endless sequence (I'm sure it's actually just a couple minutes) in which they show a woman meticulously preparing a dish that requires her to hop from pot to pot and stovetop to toaster oven. The sequence culminates with the big money shot, a glistening pile of leaves on a slice of bread slathered with hummus. That's a kale sandwich, and man oh man, if you think that a kale sandwich sounds yummy, they've just set your mouth a-drool and taken you on the first step to an all-plant diet. If, like me, you're thinking that pile of leaves looks as if it tastes like dripping wet feet, then they've probably lost you for good.
There's more to the documentary than that, of course. The filmmakers bring in a series of experts to inform us that eating anything produced by an animal will give you cancer and causes global warming. I apologize if my wording sounds dismissive of either point because I don't mean it to be, but I've got that wet feet sandwich stuck in my brain and I'm afraid it's the only lasting impression I have of the documentary. It's not that I think the filmmakers are excessively preachy either, though there's little doubt that they have cherry-picked their facts and their scientists (whose research is described as “controversial” and then embraced unquestioningly), but holy cow (pun intended), if it's really a choice between feety leaves and melting the ice caps, I'm thinking I can learn to like the heat.
That's incredibly selfish, I know, and “Planeat” does force you to consider the impact of your decisions (Bioethicist Peter Singer says that nothing changes the face of our planet as much as the way we produce our food). And if Dr. T. Colin Campbell's research into the connection between animal protein consumption and cancer is sound, we need to know more but... did I mention that the hummus wasn't even that indulgent hummus with chick peas in it, but rather the healthy kind? My God, that poor woman must have burned more calories while cooking than what she actually placed on the table.
I wish I could dismiss the information in “Planeat” as readily as I want to. I have no qualms stating that I would rather eat well and die at 50 than veg my way to 100, but even focusing exclusively on personal well-being, the decision isn't so easy as that. You don't get to flip a switch, and you might linger in spiraling health as a result of your dietary choices, something you can't laugh off once you've seen it happen to someone you love or when you know your own cardiovascular health is likely in a state of rapid decline. But if your intention is to craft an audiovisual presentation designed to persuade others, you're going to have to come up with something more appealing, both gastronomically and intellectually, than “Planeat.” With this much kale and such casual consideration of the “controversial” nature of some of the research being presented, all you're doing is preaching to the other foot fetishists.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The interlaced transfer is not the greatest you'll ever see and has some of the more pronounces instances of combing I've seen in a while (a couple freeze frames are a collection of blocky lines) but it's good enough for the fairly straightforward material, which consists mostly of interviews and shots of leaves.
The DVD is presented with a Dolby Digital Stereo track. The dialogue is clearly mixed for the most part, and the audio design is otherwise fairly simple. The film is clearly meant to be shared as widely as possible as the DVD has options for English, English for the Deaf and Hard of hearing, Spanish, German, and Chinese subtitles.
The film is already fairly short at 72 minutes. However, the filmmakers have included a Short Version (35 min.) designed to make the point for viewers who are less inclined to set aside a bigger block of time. The disc also includes a Deleted Scene (2 min.), a message from filmmaker Shelley Lee Davies (1 min.) and an interview with bioethicist Peter Singer (8 min.) on the subject of eating local.
The DVD does not include an insert booklet. However, the interior of the DVD cover includes a couple of vegetarian recipes from Chef Chad Sarno.
“Planeat” is a movie by true believers for true believers, and I am not one. However, if you are or you know somebody who might be interested, “Planeat” may be of interest to you. The movie got a thumbs up from everybody's favorite vegetarian Sir Paul McCartney, and that's something to be proud of.