Potatoes fascinate Jon Steinman.
He likes how nutritious they are, how easily they accept new flavours. He marvels at their resilience, the way they survive in storage and grow in Nelson’s climate.
“Once you really to get into potatoes you start to learn of all the different varieties that are out there that we miss just by shopping in the grocery store,” he said.
“It’s like any food. There’s just this database of varieties or breeds that we don’t get to experience. So with potatoes, everyone’s probably seen a purple potato by now, but that’s just the tip of the potato iceberg.”
Steinman has been thinking deeply about food for over a decade. He’s the founder of the Deconstructing Dinner Film Festival, which starts next Wednesday and runs until Nov. 12. Steinman hosted a weekly radio show by the same name on Kootenay Co-Op Radio that ran from 2006-10, followed by a T.V. series in 2013-14.
Curating the film festival has been his focus for the last five years.
This year’s event features eight films that cover topics such as migrant women working on farms in Leamington, Ont., chocolate companies that use child labour, and the rise of craft beer breweries in B.C.
Steinman previews 30 to 40 films each year, and tries to find a balance between entertainment and provocative topics. The audience reaction to the film Caffeinated at last year’s event was in his opinion a good example of what he wants to evoke.
“I remember people walking out of that and saying to me, ‘Tomorrow morning when I wake up and have my coffee it’s going to be a much different experience. I’m going to be much more grateful for what I’m drinking and the journey it took to get here.’
“Because really the film showed all the stages the coffee went through to get to where it was in say the kitchen in the morning or the coffee shop.”
Steinman developed an interest in food systems after studying hotel restaurant management at the University of Guelph. He worked for a chef who employed a forager, or someone who works with farmers to supply restaurants with local products.
Finding that food for himself, however, was easier said than done.
“I can’t walk into my grocery store and get this food,” he said. “Even at that time farmers markets were maybe once a week and going out to the farms and finding all the food for my dinner, I could maybe do that because at the time I was single, no family, but there was no way anybody would have time to source food that way.”
As political as the films can be, Steinman also works to make the festival a celebration of our relationship to food.
Oysters, for example, are a reoccurring food at the event in part because of Steinman’s admiration for local oyster farmer Brent Petkau, who will be shucking at one of the festival’s events.
“There’s something about oysters that Brent speaks eloquently about and that I experienced when I eat them. They just feel like medicine, they feel like a celebration, they feel like they belong in the film festival.”
Steinman said he hopes attendees leave the movies with a better understanding of where their food comes from and perhaps a willingness to try experience new dishes. Even if that new dish is full of bugs, which are the topic of one the festival’s films.
“To me it’s inevitable that this is the future of food,” said Steinman. “What I love about the subject is that if the reaction to hearing about eating bugs is, ‘ew, I don’t think I could do it,’ then to me that’s really a green light to explore what’s that about.
“Because to me, what I love about food is the way in which we can push our boundaries with it. Whether it’s growing it, cooking it or eating it, it’s a way we can push our edges.”