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How often do you hear the term superfoods these days? I hear health and fitness gurus talking about it all the time and my local grocery store even has a dedicated aisle just for superfoods! My guest today was really intrigued by this Superfood phenomenon. She wanted to know how these superfoods affect our bodies and how the growing of the foods affects farmers. Ann Shin is an award-winning director and producer known for beautiful, compelling documentary films, series, and innovative, interactive projects. Hers films and series have aired all over numerous networks including HBO, ABC, HGTV, and Discovery, just to name a few. Her latest documentary, The Superfood Chain, follows Ann as she meets farming families in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Philippines, and more who are affected by the Superfood industry. This was a fascinating conversation and I know you’re going to enjoy learning from Ann too.
The Ann 101
Ann is a writer and documentary film maker who made her start at CBC radio. She has loved both writing and stories all her life and started her career doing radio documentaries.
Ann loved working in the studio using clips to create stories with soundscapes. It wasn’t long before she realized she wanted to work on long form documentaries.
Growing up on a mushroom farm in Langley, BC, Ann learned a lot about vegetable gardening. She lives in Toronto now and having a smaller patch of land got her curious about where we are getting our foods these days. It started her journey toward making The Superfood Chain, a documentary about superfoods from around the world.
Ann’s experience with documentary subjects is vast. She has also covered stories about two war vets from the Iran, Iraq War called My Enemy, My Brother that was nominated for an Emmy and short-listed for an Oscar! She has also covered North Korean defectors escaping North Korea through China in a piece called The Defector.
Ann has always loved expression through visual arts and made the transition from radio producer to TV producer, gradually pitching her own stories.
At that time Ann also started working for production companies on documentary series. She directed a documentary for the National Film Board called Western Eyes about cosmetic surgery among Asian populations.
Soon Ann was also directing as a freelancer on a range of lifestyle and documentary series. Many in the industry find the lifestyle series a grind because it’s so repetitive, but it helped Ann gain a lot of the directing experience she would need to go out on her on in the future.
Like many of us, Ann enjoys shopping for healthy and whole foods, especially after learning more about where our food comes and growing a small garden with her daughter.
When out shopping, she started to notice that every month there was a new superfood and marketing to go along with it. She started to wonder why suddenly superfoods were being introduced and promoted. She also wanted to understand the impact it had on farmers growing superfoods.
Most superfoods are age-old crops grown on a small scale, and Ann questioned how the growth footprint may have changed as superfoods seemed to be exploding on a much larger (and popular) scale.
When she served her children a dinner made with a superfood, they would ask where it’s from. Ann realized she couldn’t tell her kids the cultural significance of the food and only that they were eating it because it’s healthy. She started researching superfoods grown in other countries and how they get to our dinner plates.
In popular culture, superfoods are known as healthy foods that help combat diseases and are super rich with nutrients and antioxidants to help us stay healthy.
In many cases, Ann learned that these descriptors were just a big marketing tactic. As she researched more, she realized it was leading consumers to believe that superfoods are somehow better than the other nutrient-rich foods they have always had access to. We don’t necessarily need extra nutrients in North America where we have easy access to all the nutrients we need already.
The hype around superfoods can lead people to think that they need to buy superfoods to be healthy when in fact there are tons of (non-superfood) foods around us that are very nutritional.
We’ve seen a huge shift in the food industry in the last 10-15 years toward more organic, whole, and non-GMO food, and people are questioning where their food comes from more.
Ann and her daughters took a trip to Boliva to learn how quinoa is grown. They learned that as demand for quinoa skyrocketed in North America, farmers in Boliva initially became wealthy, but quinoa soon became too expensive for local Bolivians to purchase.
There was a big disruption in the sustainability of quinoa. When larger farms in Boliva and other parts of the world became successful, the quinoa prices dropped and the farmers who were initially successful started turning their farms back to grow potatoes because they made more money growing potatoes than quinoa.
Global production caused farms that were initially successful to struggle to stay in business once quinoa prices fell.
There is a ripple effect with our buying decisions. It’s worth buying a fair-trade food products that you’ve researched because legitimate fair-trade organizations can lobby for land rights and help farmers get the equipment they need to keep their businesses going.
We can also support the farmers near us. There are a lot of great nutritional options around us, and the closer the food is to us, the lower the footprint and the more meaningful the purchase.
We can be mindful about how we shop in the grocery store and doing so can positively impact farmers that are near us and far away too.
You can find The Superfood Chain HERE. It’s also available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Voodoo, and Tubi. Fathomfilm.ca has more of Ann’s documentaries streaming as well!
Find out Ann’s strangest pet peeve, what she thinks we will be nostalgic for in forty years, and of course the question I ask all my guests! Stay tuned to hear Ann’s answer to what it means to her to run a business with purpose!
~5:42 – “When something just sticks when me and I come back to it again and again, I find I want to delve into it further and I start to develop and research a documentary around it.”
~11:10 – “I realized I was really divorced from one, where the food was coming from, but also how it’s prepared. There was no cultural significance to the food that I was feeding the kids.”
14:53 – “The hype around superfoods can be a bit misleading. People might think they need to buy the superfood to be healthy but in fact, no. There are extra nutrients in these foods, but there’s tons of foods around us that are very nutritional.”
About Ann Shin:
Ann is an award-winning Director and Producer known for beautiful, compelling documentary films, series and innovative interactive projects. Her films and series have aired on CBC, TVO, HBO, ABC, CBC The Documentary Channel, Discovery Channel, HGTV, History Channel, SLICE. Her latest film, My Enemy, My Brother won Grand Jury Prize at SDAIFF , the short version was shortlisted for a 2016 Academy Award, and nominated for an Emmy.