Documentary shows what goes on before food is served in a fancy restaurant
November 9, 2017
A beautifully plated gourmet dish served by one of Toronto's most popular Financial District restaurants, Canoe, is the eye candy Dylan Sher is hoping will grab the attention of his food-loving city counterparts.
Sher, an agriculture student and city boy by birth, is hoping his concept of tracing each ingredient on the gourmet plate back to its roots will interest and educate those not involved in production agriculture.
Sher's documentary, Before the Plate, which is now in its final three days of filming, has garnered the support of a number of Canadian companies and producers. The film traces 10 ingredients back to the farms and ranches of their origins with the help of the gourmet chef, John Horne, who so artfully creates beautiful dishes for diners on the 54th floor restaurant overlooking Toronto.
Ingredients featured include carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, tomatoes, sunflower oil, buttermilk, wheat, honey, and beef and the producers of these agricultural products have opened their gates and welcomed Sher to help them tell their story.
"I had an interest in farming but as you know, the city perception of farming is very different than a rural understanding of farming," he said.
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This perception, paired with the damaging, large-budget documentaries that loom large over the good reputation of production agriculture, prompted Sher to begin his project last spring. He said it's been a learning journey and learning more about the practices of production has given him a better understanding of the industry as a whole.
"Understanding why farmers choose to do things and why the (practices) aren't as scary as some of us are led to believe," he said. "I'm trying to bring that story to the city in a format that will resonate with them."
Sher's urban background and experience has been valuable as he aims to reach other urbanites who may have only the input of anti-agriculture documentaries coloring their perception of the industry. He said the producers were all happy to speak frankly about the misinformation regarding production agriculture from GMOs to so-called factory farming to animal treatment.
"We were able to go to the farms in the province and show what they're all about and talk to the farmers," he said. "I think the biggest misconception that we have to face is that people trust farmers but they don't trust the ag industry. For some reason they think farmers are no longer in the game."
Sher said his urban counterparts might meet a farmer who, for example, produced the milk they purchase and the consumer would be quick to support and appreciate that farmer, However, if the consumer purchases the same milk at the grocery store, they assume the milk came, not from a farmer, but from a factory type farming corporation in which the farmer no longer plays a role.
The farmers and ranchers featured in the film represent various production methods and Sher and his crew have received funding from many companies in the area. One aerial application company even donated the crew the use of a helicopter for a day of filming. Even so, Sher said, their budget is about $50,000 whereas other well-known, anti-agriculture documentaries have budgets over $1 million.
Even though Sher's budget is low in comparison to some other films, he is seeing his social media following grow and is preparing to submit the finished film to the Toronto International Film Festival. Success there would mean increased screenings and publicity, he said.
"Most people have seen Food, Inc., or Cowspiracy," he said. "But they haven't seen something else and my goal is to be the something else."
The key difference between Before the Plate and other agricultural documentaries is the messaging. Sher said his familiarity with urban culture helps him tailor the film to both interest and entertain urban viewers.
"When I tell someone that we follow the ingredients from the restaurant plate back to the farm, they're instantly fascinated," he said. "That applies to them and it applies to their food."
Sher hopes to begin screenings in August. Trailers, information, and avenues through which to donate are all available at http://www.beforetheplate.com. ❖
— Spencer Gabel is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.