You can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress, the car they drive, or the people they associate with. But there is another way to discover a person's true essence. It is the thing that every human being needs to survive, something we all can relate to—food. Food is not only a life source, but a window into our soul, our identity, our culture, and our family.
The Meaning of Food, a three-part public television documentary, looks at the social and cultural significance of food. The first episode, "Food and Life," focuses on the importance of food as a symbol of love, life, continuation, joy, hope, and coming together. The second episode, "Food and Culture," looks at how our cultural identities are formed through the foods we eat. Episode three, "Food and Family," examines the impact of food on family relationships and how food reaffirms family bonds.
Sue McLaughlin is President of Pie in the Sky Productions, a documentary production company established to bring together a loose affiliation of West Coast and Pacific Island filmmakers. Sue is a Seattle-based documentary filmmaker whose other credits include producing the award-winning four-part PBS series Death: The Trip of a Lifetime, an examination of different cultures’ attitudes towards death; producing for Fire on the Rim, a PBS series about Pacific Rim cultures; serving as production consultant on PBS’s Vaudeville; and producing, directing, writing and editing numerous documentaries and pieces for KCTS (Seattle’s PBS affiliate) and for clients such as the National Institutes of Health, Scholastic Publishing and Seattle’s Wing Luke Asian Museum.
More About the Film
Sue McLaughlin, originator of the series and executive producer, brings together a talented film crew to capture stories from homes and communities across the United States.
McLaughlin's inspiration for the documentary stems from her earlier travels around the globe. It was then that she discovered the importance of feasting as a way of knitting a culture together, healing hurts, saying "I'm sorry," and sharing life with one another. Recalling her interaction with people from various cultures, McLaughlin shares, "Even if we were both speaking English, we weren't necessarily opening up to one another. It was through food that we truly communicated."
In the early stages of her research for The Meaning of Food, McLaughlin traveled to Hawai‘i. She says, "Unlike the common perspective on food by most, which focuses on cooking shows, taste, and ingredients, the local people in Hawai'i have a perspective on food that goes beyond this way of thinking."
McLaughlin is referring to the melting pot of ethnicities that exists in Hawai‘i and the food traditions that define each of these ethnicities. She observes, "Because so many people are mixed ethnically, there is a deeper awareness and appreciation for other cultures and a better understanding of one another. Food is what brings everyone together. It is the language of each culture in Hawai‘i."
Two Pacific Islanders joined McLaughlin in the production of The Meaning of Food. Cook Islander Karin Williams is the senior producer and series director for the documentary. Kimberlee Bassford, a mix of Hawaiian, Chinese, and Filipino, participated as a producer, segment director, and camera operator.
"Karin and Kim were a tremendous help during the project," says McLaughlin. "As Pacific Islanders, they maintained a sensitivity toward the people we interviewed across the U.S. and were able to understand, meet with, and empathize with any culture we came across."
This fascinating documentary exposes viewers to the meaning of food in families and cultures extending from Hawai‘i to South Carolina, from Southern Texas to Washington. For a moment, we are able to step outside of our "cooking show" mentalities and discover an extraordinary variety of cultures that make up America, and the food traditions that define these people and their communities.