Food is a human right, pardon for stating the obvious. I state that obvious fact, however, because that access to food, especially in the 21st century, has connections to factors beyond individual control. Suzanne Crocker confronts that truth in her documentary First We Eat, when a road blockage within the Tr’ondek Hwech’in settlement of Dawson City made her decide to only eat local food and make food out of raw materials that she can only find within the settlement. Part of that decision involves filming that journey and convincing her reluctant family to join her at least for a year. That journey then, is part her family making jokes about what they’re doing to compensate for the shortage of salt in their diets. There’s also her making food for herself and her family.
Some of the film’s parts include portraits and still lives of Crocker’s domestic life i.e. crisp digital videography of her dog and cat. Others include the documentation of both European and Indigenous people farming the settlement. She also takes time to capture members of her family, like her husband Gerard and adult son Sam. They weight the hundred of pounds of produce which comprise their sugar intake. There’s something that hits personal as she captures her family help her in a cause they might not have believed in. I write this as someone who feels like I never lifted enough fingers for my mother when she was alive. Gerard and Sam are willing to, again, lift hundreds of pounds for her. There’s also something about these images that add a proletarian touch to a project that feels bougie.
Most of the time, Crocker imbues a sense of love into her camera work. Love for her family, the animals she’s getting her nutrients from. Love for nature feeling the effects of climate change, change that she and her children must eventually adapt to. There are, however, some scenes which don’t necessarily undermine that love but are enough to cock my head a little. Some scenes involve her plopping food down her dinner table. She then lets her famly make a few guesses before learning the strange and sometimes gross source of such nutrition. In short, there’s a part of this that feels like she’s punk-ing her kids and getting that reaction out of them.
There are also a few instances that make it feel like this family live the same lives before and after the switch to local. It’s interesting to watch Crocker’s dynamic with Gerard specifically. Earlier on, she explains that the kitchen was his domain. She takes over for him because of the switch. There are moments where he takes the kitchen back and cook something that probably tastes good. But his presentation is, in polite words, more than lacking. The food on both stages of this family’s life adds an authenticity to the film. It also encapsulates its methods. It deals with macro issues like climate change and food sustainability and adds a micro, personal touch to it.
First We Eat is available on demand.