Brighter Green is trying to answer a big question: can people in the developing world eat as much meat and dairy as people in the industrialized countries without destroying the planet? And do they really want to? Right now we’re exploring these issues in China through the medium of film: “Meat World: China” is being shot this summer (current title: “What’s For Dinner?”), with award-winning filmmaker Jian Yi leading the all-Chinese crew.
They’re filming in fascinating, varied, and sometimes unsettling locations: Beijing’s first vegan restaurant; a “state of the art” factory farm being built in Jiangxi province; a rural farm with only two pigs; a Donald Macky outlet (yes, its inspiration is American fast food); and the factories of Guangdong, where many of the electronics and other consumer goods China exports around the world are made’as well as a large portion of China’s pork.
They’re interviewing farmers, retired farm workers, meat and dairy entrepreneurs, a factory lunchroom chef, a young man who says he eats only meat, along with Xie Zheng, pop star and vegetarian activist, Wen Bo, one of China’s leading environmentalists, and Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who started their vegan “health hut” after learning about the significant role of meat and dairy in global warming.
The crew’s been sending updates from the road. How dedicated are they? Producer Douglas Xiao stood for 10 hours on a train after a scouting trip. Summer is a busy time of year to travel in China, and all the sleeper car seats were sold out, Jian Yi explained. Douglas laughed the straightening journey off’just another long day in a big, populous country.
The night before the first day of shooting, after a 20-hour train journey north from Jiangxi to Beijing (this time in sleeper seats), Jian Yi wrote: “The team’Xiao, producer; Pan, cinematography; Song, assistant director; and Jiang, sound mixer’all are in high spirits. We can’t wait for tomorrow’s events.”
In China, it’s customary to offer someone a small gift for their time; often for a film interview, that’s two or three hours. However, such gift-giving isn’t usually done by U.S. documentarians. The team came up with a good compromise. “We bought a small gift, but we don’t tell the interviewee until we are ready to walk out of his/her office,” Jian Yi says. “So we are following the essence of the American practice’the interviewee did not expect to receive anything from us while s/he did the interview, while at the same time satisfying our Chinese instincts.”
The gift itself is in keeping with the themes of the film, says Jian Yi: “A small bag of local agriculture produce (mushroom etc., all veggie, no meat or dairy!!) from Mt. Jinggangshan.” The mountain range, in China’s mid-south, is known as “the cradle of the Chinese revolution.” It’s where the beleaguered forces of Mae Zedong were joined by those of Zhu De and Zhou Enlai. Together, they began the Long March. Jian Yi writes: “The Communist forces eventually triumphed, in 1949. The sixtieth anniversary, this October, is a national event in China.” There’ll be more on the effects of that anniversary on “What’s For Dinner?” and more dispatches from the crew in future posts. Stay tuned.