Filmmaker Catherine Gund Teaches Her Kids Where Food Comes From


Squatting on a wooden stool at his kitchen counter, four-year-old Tenzin plucks green stems off cherry tomatoes, chops bell peppers, then uses a mortar and pestle to mash it all into a chunky salsa, asking a visitor, “Do you like it spicy?”

Meanwhile Tenzin’s brothers, nine-year-old twins Kofi and Rio, show off the window boxes that line the southern end of the family’s Grand Street loft: sugar lump tomatoes, rosemary, mint, oregano and edible nasturtium flowers. “Ooh! Can you get me one?” Tenzin calls out.

The children’s mom, documentary filmmaker Catherine Gund, 42, says they love to cook. Her latest project, What’s On Your Plate?, follows 11-year-old Sadie (the oldest of Gund’s four children) and Sadie’s best friend, Safiyah, on a colorful, kid-friendly journey as they interview farmers, school officials, chefs and activists to learn what’s on their plates, how it got there and how to improve it. But this is no garden variety educational video; the film’s advisory board includes movement heavyweights Dan Barber and Michael Pollan. And, although it takes place in New York, Gund says the crises it grapples with affect communities nationwide. At press time, What’s On Your Plate? was in post-production.

Sadie and Safiyah, now 12, say making the movie opened their eyes. Food “doesn’t just come magically,” explains Safiyah. In the film they visit the Angel family farm upstate; dig carrots with the Lower East Side Girls Club; compare calories in walnuts, marshmallows and Funyuns in their middle-school science class; and share a home-cooked feast of pasta, pesto, sautéed corn and homemade peach ice cream with activists and Grub coauthors Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry.

“A film that looks at food through the eyes of young people is super exciting,” says Lappé. It’s also unique: Although it falls on the heels of food-fight films like Super Size Me, The Future of Food, Fast Food Nation and The Real Dirt on Farmer John, Gund says What’s On Your Plate? is the first in the genre to focus on kids.

Scheduled for release this spring, the film will be accompanied by a nationwide campaign with podcasts and teacher tool kits, says Gund. She hopes it will inspire families to cook together and talk about food choices. Just such a conversation—about meataverse classmates who thought pasta and pizza formed a balanced diet—helped inspire What’s On Your Plate? The film was Sadie’s idea, says Gund. “She wanted to call it Vegetarians Gone Bad.”

Media diet: Sadie and Safiyah hit the Greenmarket with Bryant Terry in their new food fight film. Photo credit: Catherine Gund