Seed: The Untold Story A review
30 Sep 2016
This documentary should come with a warning label: Caution! This film might make you throw shit at your screen! While visually stunning, Seed: The Untold Story is also enraging.
Henry Kissenger: If you want to control a country, you control the oil. If you want to control the people, control the food.
Dr. Vandana Shiva: If you want to control the food, you control the seeds.
There is tons of information everywhere about seed banks, GMOs, pesticides, Monsanto, Dow, Bill 2491, suicide among Indian farmers and the loss of seed diversity. However, this documentary is the first I have seen to bring all of these crucial topics together in one film to give viewers a crash course in the dire state of our food supply. In two hours, I took thirteen pages of notes (a record for me) and yet I wish the film was two hours longer.
The film is eye candy from the very beginning. A burst of delicious vibrant colors saturate our vision from frame to frame with foods derived from seeds. The colorists deserves every award in the world. I was extremely impressed with the visual skills that made even Will Bonsall, a simple farmer in dull overalls and a home based seed bank in a shed look more inviting than a 3D film. The HD is on point and made me not want to blink. Opening the film with Will Bonsall was great because it gives the viewers an up close and personal look of the issues through the eyes of an actual farmer who is fighting for our food independence hands on. Like every other speaker in Seed, Will gives us an impressively informed account of the crisis we are in and he gives us knowledge on how to possibly shift our detriment into reverse gear. His love for growing his own food with the thousands of seed varieties in his possession was so heartwarming and admirable that I had to hit pause to go and apologize to my daughter for not being more supportive of her organic micro-farm in our Los Angeles backyard.
On Will’s farm alone, he grows an astonishing variety of food, including hundreds of different varieties of potatoes. While flaunting the beautiful potatoes of deep burgundy and majestic purples, he warns of the dangers of lack of variety by giving us a brief history lesson about the potato blight that killed over one million Irish in the 1830s and 40s. Will admonishes “Genetic diversity is the hedge between us and global famine.”
I have never been so impressed with extreme close-up images of produce as I was while watching the statistics about the loss of diversity of our vegetables. In the 20th century, we lost 94% of our vegetable seed varieties. We went from 544 varieties of cabbage to 28. From 288 varieties of beets, we are now down to 17. We have lost over 96% of our corn varieties and 98% of our celery varieties and countless other varieties of the produce we consume in our regular diets. So many of the varieties in our seed stock are on the verge of extinction. We presently have the largest seed shortage in history.
I felt like a kid again watching the stop motion animation which explained how the domestication of corn in the Oaxaca Valley began the connection that humans have with seeds. From its Mexican origin, corn is now grown on every continent and it’s adaptability has allowed it to forge empires and nourish populations all over the earth.
I loved the scenes with Louie Hena and Leigh Kuwanwisima, Native American seed collectors who explain the sacred connection their Native American cultures have with seeds. Even the damaged ears and kernals of corn that the average consumer would discard are treated as sacred and planted with the others. The Native Americans have been the stewards of the seeds in this land for thousands of years and I appreciated being able to watch them carry on their ancient tradition of protecting and honoring the food supply.
Joe Simcox, a botanical explorer is my favorite botanical explorer of all time. Of course I didn’t know that was a thing before watching this film, but now that I do, Joe is my favorite of all time. I have never seen anyone get so excited about plants and seeds. Every time Joe found a rare seed or plant in this film, it was more epic than Kim Kardashian discovering a new angle to take another selfie. We get to travel with Joe and his brother through the Peruvian Amazon and even the Kalahari Desert. It’s not every day you get to see your favorite botanical explorer dine with the Kalahari Bushmen on a sweet potato that can go 3 years without being watered!
Joe explains that there are over 300,000 species of plants on the planet and over 30,000 are edible. Humans only use 120 on a regular bases and most of humanity subsists on a mere 10, including beans, corn, wheat, rice and bailey. “These are virtually nothing compared to the bigger picture,” says Joe.
Seed: The Untold Story is unquestionably a labor of love. The animation that follows Joe’s quest to find rare seeds and plants in the Peruvian Amazon is followed by an animated history lesson of how seeds became a commodity in the United States by 1924, following decades of the federal government giving away over one billion packets of seed around the country. The American Seed Trade Association decided that it was far more important to make big profits from seeds than make it available for Americans. The animation was succinct, impactful and quite enjoyable. It was also a great harbinger for the lessons we would learn throughout the rest of the film on how the corporations have been pimp-slapping us for the last century by controlling our food supply and decimating traditional farming with hybrid corn and other laboratory monstrosities.
Because it is impossible to do a great documentary on food security without featuring the illustrious Dr. Vandana Shiva, the makers of Seed ensured Shiva had enough camera time to allow her to shock and infuriate us right before she makes us fall in love with her over and over again. Shiva is a physicist, activist & author who has been educating and empowering farmers in India to reclaim their food independence by breaking their deadly bondage from Monsanto and other companies that have created a cycle of dependence on industrialized seeds and toxic agriculture chemicals. Shiva’s fight for the farmers is so necessary as nearly 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide as a result of the corporate criminals that have made the farmers slaves to their patented seeds.
The scenes shot in Hawaii give us another view of the environmental injustices perpetrated on indigenous people. Chemicals sprayed on experimental seed test plots in Kauai have caused untold numbers of cancer related deaths and birth defects among the native population. We see the result of the Hawaiians fighting Monsanto and big pharma in an attempt to have these corporations stop spraying poison yards away from schools where students and staff have fallen seriously ill after inhaling the toxins.
As informative as Seed was about the way the Monsanto and other corporations make money from creating food insecurity, it was just as much a blueprint of what we need to do on a local and global scale to reclaim our sovereignty and life force. My grandmother knew the medicinal purpose for every plant in her backyard and even the ones growing wild in her community in the Caribbean. She would always advise us, “Let yuh food be yuh medicine and let yuh medicine be yuh food.” We all need to discover more of the 30,000 edible plants that Joe, my favorite botanical explorer, talked about. In these plants we will find nourishment, wisdom, happiness and health. Ain’t shit Monsanto can do for us that we should not be doing for ourselves. This documentary is an eye opener to why so many Americans have developed weird allergies and food insensitive over the last decade. This documentary is an eye opener to the other 30,000 plants I can be eating aside from the overpriced ones in Whole Foods. I grew up on an Island where 9 out of 10 trees grow food and even the children know which ones to eat to cure many ailments. I don’t want Monsanto to take that away.
If you would like to know more about how the chemical atrazine turns male frogs into female frogs, please watch Seed. If you would like to know more about the effects of chemicals in our food, please watch Seed. If you want to learn from people who are working to save our food supply, please watch Seed. If you would like to watch a documentary that is so visually stunning that you have to watch it a second time with the sound muted just to appreciate the breathtaking images, please watch Seed. My only criticism is that this was not a 10 episode series because there was so much info in this one powder keg. However, the filmmakers have ushered me to the point where I now have to get involved.