Story last updated at 11/19/2008 - 4:22 pm
SITKA - What is the ethical way to eat in Alaska - or anywhere? How can you break away from the industrial food system? Where is your comfort level in taking a life for food? Is it better to shoot a deer than to buy tofu that has been shipped thousands of miles? Can a former vegetarian even shoot a deer?
Sitka filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein is fascinated by these questions and she hopes viewers of her film "Eating Alaska" will be too.
"I'm asking questions that I think a lot of people are asking right now," Frankenstein said.
Frankenstein calls her film "a wry quest for the right things to eat." Three years in the making, the film was produced in collaboration with KTOO-TV, and is available to groups for private and public screenings throughout the state and beyond.
"One thing that kind of triggered the film was when I learned that some (female) friends of mine were hunting," Frankenstein said. "I wanted to see if I could learn to hunt as an ex-vegetarian."
Learning to hunt is just one episode in the film. After the experience, Frankenstein still had unanswered questions and wanted to "stir the pot a bit."
So in the film, she also fishes for wild salmon with her fisherman husband and visits a farmers market in the Lower 48. She visits a vegan cooking class in Wasilla and talks to a home economics class in Kotzebue about their favorite foods (traditional Native subsistence foods - and pretzels).
In the process of making the film, Frankenstein talked to Native elders, biologists and conservationists. She looked at the history of eating in Alaska, from a subsistence lifestyle to early pioneer farms to being a part of the industrial food chain and the current interest in eating locally again.
In the Lower 48, Frankenstein thought eating a vegetarian diet was the best way to minimize her impact on the earth. But when she moved to Alaska 15 years ago, it wasn't clear whether eating vegetarian was the right thing to do anymore.
"It didn't seem to make sense for the environment (to sustain) a lot of cows and cattle," she said. "But if you get the meat or fish yourself and you're doing it in this kind of ethical way, it makes as much sense as shipping in tofu, or more sense."
Her film explores questions without offering definite answers, and Frankenstein is clear that her goal was to incite discussion, not convert others to a specific way of thinking about food.
"I've lived here a long time and I (started wondering) how do you get a conversation going about the environment so it doesn't seem like you're some kind of greenie?" she said.
"Eating to Alaska" is her answer to this question. And judging by the initial response, it seems to be working. The film debut in Sitka last weekend to a crowd of almost 500 people.
"It was a festive community event that brought people together, stimulated discussion and promoted action (such as) our new community greenhouse," Frankenstein wrote in an e-mail after the event. "Exactly what I hoped for - film as community art! And (I) want that to happen in other communities!"
Any interested group or organization is encouraged to host screenings and discussions of the film in their community. For more information or to obtain a copy of the film, visit www.eatingalaska.com.