“There’s Brian, the bacon-loving bachelor who eats out all the time, Ellen, the single mom who prefers comedy to cooking, and Tesla, the college student who avoids vegetables and bans beans.” http://www.getvegucated.com
Last night I attended the West coast premiere of the film Vegucated followed by a q&a with the writer and director Marisa Miller Wolfson, activist/author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and Kevin Connelly with Earth Island Institute. The event also treated us to some delicious vegan desserts at a post-screening reception.
Vegucated is a new documentary that follows three everyday people from different walks of life as they complete the challenge to become fully vegan for six weeks. I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go… another film about the horrors of meat and the glory of a peace loving, tree hugging vegan diet?!” And yes, the film explains the health, environmental, and animal rights benefits of going vegan. More so, it does this very tastefully and effectively. Yet, where this film strikes a more unique approach to advocating for going vegan is with a breakdown of the normal concerns people face when trying to adapt to the vegan world.
Vegucated achieves this new perspective through the dynamic of the film. Marisa Miller Wolfson is the writer and director of Vegucated, a vegan, and the one who conceived and catapulted the making of the film. Though what you’re not going see in the documentary is Marisa simply lecturing and scaring viewers into veganism. Instead, Marisa plays a mentoring role in the film, coaching three random participants in their own trials to go vegan. So as a viewer, you get to see Brian, Ellen and Tesla bring their own meat and cheese eating perspectives to this different lifestyle. Vegucated looks at shopping, for groceries and clothing, and cooking dishes that you’ll really enjoy. One of the most interesting parts of the film is the attention to being vegan when the community and people, including family and friends, around you may not be. Tesla, for instance, is a college student living at home where her father cooks delicious, traditional dishes for the whole family. This struggle for Tesla to make her own separate food, which is highlighted with a vacation to Honduras, is recognized within the movie.
Another real bonus point of Vegucated is the entertainment component worked into the film. I don’t want to downplay the health and activism components to Vegucated, because each does get highlighted. When the group visits a physician he speaks about the health studies and recorded benefits of eating more unprocessed plant foods and limiting animal products. There is also a segment about the pollution and wasteful practices in the supply chain for animal products. So too are the stories about animal treatment incorporated, with enough eek-factor without going into the gruesome. This way, nothing too graphic or explicit is forced on the viewers, but the issue is well addressed.
… But back to the bonus point. Marisa comes from a sketch comedy and improv background and her personality comes through with the “goofball factor,” and “silliness,” as she describes it, within parts of the film. Like when she opens the movie with the story of her own transition to veganism, having grown up as a good meat and cheese eater. She recalls questions of – Will I have to eat chalky bran muffins, grow out my arm pit hair, or take part in animal liberations? You can also see this in Brian’s confession that he has always seen vegans as creatures from outer space.
Vegucated effectively manages a good balance between education and entertainment throughout. This tone and aim of Vegucated was really reiterated with the post-screening q&a. The room was indeed filled with many vegans and vegetarians, but there were also meat eaters, and people from each group took part in the conversation. As the Vegucated promoters pointed out, this film, this conversation, is for the “veggie-curious.” Those who might be interested in the topic, or want to share their veggie thoughts with family and friends can now turn to this documentary. More than convincing everyone go vegan (though this is certainly a vegan-promotional project) Marisa expressed her hopes to open minds, encourage understanding, and promote making even small changes with time. The panel also emphasized the diverse components of the film, and Kevin Connelly (Earth Island Institute) commented on the film “incorporating everyday people, humor, issues of the environment… reinforcements for different motivations [for attempting change, or going vegan].”
It’s easy to relate to Vegucated, for people coming from different perspectives, carrying different concerns and preconceptions. After seven years of production Vegucated went to the Toronto Indie Film Fest where it won Best Documentary and has now launched it’s “Let’s Get America Vegucated!” Autumn 2011 tour. The tour opened on October 13th in New York, and now that is has come to Berkeley, some of the next stops include Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Chicago.
If you’re interested in learning more, or finding out about future plans for Vegucated DVDs, online access, and community screenings, visit http://www.getvegucated.com/