The shoot begins. In director Jian Yi’s treatment for “What’s For Dinner?”, three main locations and a number of characters and themes are woven together into a record of a day in the life of China’producing and eating food. The film’s exploring answers to these questions: Do we (Chinese) really want to eat like they (Westerners) do? Where were we, where are we now, and where are we heading in terms of how and what we eat? How much have we done already to destroy the environment and ourselves, and do we want this to continue? First location: Beijing, China’s capital, home to more than 17 million people. (In a word, big).
“We had a long day today,” Jian Yi writes of the crew’s first day in Beijing, “starting with shooting of street scenes at 8 a.m., followed by interviews with environmentalists Erika Helms, Executive Director of the Jane Goodall Institute-China and Wen Bo and his colleague Wu Xiaohong, who discussed the effects of meat and dairy production on the climate, and water and land resources. An American, Erika, Jian Yi notes, said she became a vegetarian only after she came to live in China. The more visceral nature of China’s meat industry’such as seeing bloody animal carcasses falling off the back of bicycles’got to her. “Seeing that, I thought, I don’t need this,” she said.
The next day, Jian Yi and his team got up early and headed out of the center of Beijing to the home of Xie Zheng, lead singer of the Giant Beanstalk band. Not only was the band there (three men), so were several members of Xie’s “Don’t Eat Friends” vegetarian advocacy group, and a number of animals’not farm animals, but Xie’s cats and dogs. “Remarkable people and good interviews,” Jian Yi reported. Xie and his colleagues discussed the roots of their veganism and concern for animal rights.
They did, though, express some caution, due to China’s celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the republic’s founding. The situation is sensitive. Many Chinese NGOs have been urged, either directly or indirectly, to cool it; some are experiencing more frequent legal challenges from the government, particularly those’of which there are many’that receive foreign funding. Even away from major cities, police are on the alert for NGO provocation. “Don’t Eat Friends” is postponing, for now, its actions targeting restaurants that give alcohol to rabbits, get them drunk, and then kill and serve them. The band agreed to have some of their songs included in the film. “The whole crew,” Jian Yi says, “loved the music.”