Morgan Spurlock made a name for himself eating burgers. His film Supersize Me was an indictment of the fast food industry. Now he’s moved on to ice cream, and Häagen-Dazs in particular, but, not to convince you not to eat it.
Spurlock’s new film Crafted debuted at the Los Angeles Film Fest, June 10-18. Crafted aims to take us into the mindset of modern craftsmen who choose quality and personal involvement over mass production.
Three groups of artisan craftsmen were profiled in the short film: Cortney Burnes and Nick Balla who run Bar Tartine, a San Francisco restaurant which relies on local produce and creates everything served in-house, including cheeses and spices; Luke Snyder and David Van Wyk who make some of the most sought-after hand-forged knives in the world at Bloodroot Blades in Arnoldsville, Georgia; and Nagatani Pottery in Japan.
The restaurateurs and knife makers participated in a Q&A after the screening. Both in the film and in person I was impressed by their dedication, creativity and sincerity. I have no doubt that their passion for creating products in a traditional manner results in quality and, in the case of the knife makers, heirlooms that could last for generations.
What about the ice cream?
The film project was funded by Häagen-Dazs in order to promote their new artisan line of flavors. Does this make Spurlock a sell out? It’s complicated.
Let’s set this, oh, so LA scene. The audience at the by-invitation-only showing was not the usual LA Film Fest collection of filmmakers and film nerds. The audience was, if not “1 percenters”, at least “10 percenters”. The Q&A, led by Henry Rollins, a rock musician turned PBS radio host and newspaper columnist for the LA Weekly, revealed the schizophrenia of hip-liberal LA.
Rollins was apparently aware of the dichotomy of a film about the virtue of non-corporate production being sponsored by a giant corporation. Häagen-Dazs ice cream is produced by Nestlé subsidiary Dreyer’s under a license from General Mills. People think the name is Danish, but really means nothing in any language. The company began as a single ice cream shop in Brooklyn, New York.
Rollins tried to head off criticism. He volunteered that he thought Häagen-Dazs was a great company. He said that working for Häagen-Dazs as an ice cream shop manager in the 1980s was “the last straight job I had.” I think he meant last non-entertainment job. He said that while so employed he had “…to convince teenagers to pay high prices for ice cream, without some high school quarterback jumping over the counter to attack me.”
Here comes the schizophrenia. He then went on to praise Spurlock’s film for “being an enemy of capitalism in a wonderful way.” Let’s focus: Here is a man who works for an advertising-supported newspaper, in a theater full of wealthy people, praising a film sponsored by the 3rd largest food corporation in the United States, denouncing capitalism and people applauded. I love LA.
Wait there’s more.
After the premier of the film the guests were escorted to the party tent. There, the artisans who had inspired Häagen-Dazs’ new flavors were set up with their original products, for instance cinnamon cookies, or praline sauce. Guests could meet the artisans; taste the original product and the ice cream inspired by it. There were also free appetizers and an open bar.
I tasted the praline sauce created by Chef Cruz Caudillo of Praline Patisserie and the Häagen-Dazs version. Caudillo had high praise for Häagen-Dazs. “A lot of companies,” he said, “would just license the name and you’d never see them again. Häagen-Dazs kept us involved with the product through its development.” The ice cream was good and an excellent tribute to the original artisan work.
The film, which is only 25 minutes long, seemed to me to end abruptly. Spurlock nodded and said that he wanted to go more in depth, “But, that’s the length Häagen-Dazs wanted it.” He said he was exploring the possibility of developing the concept into a series which would explore the work of different artisans in each episode.
I suggested that this focus on hand-crafted production was something of an affectation of the affluent. As we looked at the party goers, they were definitely not proletarian. Another party goer suggested that the artisan restaurant featured in the film, Bar Tartine, was anything but affordable. You can check the menu yourself. It isn’t Denny’s.
I pointed out that there were a lot more people in the world who were concerned about having any food to eat, than there were people worried about the carbon footprint created by the production of the food they were eating.
Spurlock countered that hunger was a different problem. He compared the process of producing natural, locally grown food to other changes that have happened in society over the last decades. “Look at the cost of cell phones,” he said. “The price has gone down from thousands of dollars to something everyone can afford.” He held out the hope that the artisan food industry would develop in a similar manner.
I thanked him for his time and went to get more Häagen-Dazs.
You can watch a trailer for Crafted, below, and the full film on Amazon Instant Video.
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