On May 9, 2010, a young couple set out on a yearlong driving adventure in their home state of Minnesota. There would be no mindless eating on this road trip, however. For Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, real food was the journey as well as the destination. In place of junk food bags, their car collected local products, like wild rice, honey and edible weeds.
Itinerant filmmakers, their aim was to document foods grown, gathered, husbanded and hunted by real people. By the end of the year, they had created a collection of 52 short films called “The Perennial Plate: Adventures in Sustainable Eating” and a 60,000-views-per-month Internet hit series.
Their passion fueled, the tireless couple set off on a second year road trip, this time across the United States. Their resources: a Toyota Prius, an immersion blender and double the funds of their first trip, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. Through 43 states and across 23,000 miles, “The Perennial Plate” posted 50 new episodes. Their three-to-12-minute videos on subjects from eating insects to a Southern farm-to-table dinner went viral.
For their third season, “The Perennial Plate” goes global with the first episode set to air in late October. Their route is a 12-country journey in partnership with Intrepid Travel, beginning in China and Japan. Anyone with Internet access can go along for the continuing journey. It’s all free, but the going’s not always easy.
Not the Food Network
Episodes of “The Perennial Plate” feature Klein, a chef with four-star credentials, visiting a locale and interviewing regular folks. Subjects have included everyone from cheese makers and ranchers to urban homesteaders and mushroom foragers.
While Klein has a background in filmmaking, videographer Fine is new to the process. A vegetarian, Fine shot the lamb butchering in episode 6 when Klein couldn’t find any other help. “She did a better job than anyone else,” Klein said, and she has had the role ever since.
“There’s no script or agenda,” Fine said.
Their shoots can last from one to several days. Together, they edit the footage, finding the story and timing it to the music, which drives the pace. (Their ideal length is seven minutes.) Their video creations have the energy and momentum of a great, short road trip — with exceptional, if virtual, snacks.
The pair build each episode with a combination of gorgeous camera shots, memorable characters and a catchy soundtrack (all by independent artists) capped off by a pithy on-screen quote. It combines the personal travelogue with an engaging story of people, place and the food in their lives.
“We’re looking for vulnerable moments with people,” Klein said. “Sometimes we shoot animals being butchered and it’s hard.”
From road kill to Dumpster diving, the couple don’t avert the camera lens from any food topic they find compelling, but they don’t dwell on the bizarre.
Storytelling and activism in ‘Perennial Plate’
Another hallmark of “The Perennial Plate” is the “you are there” quality, whether it’s a joyous, sunlit farm dinner or a stern-faced fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico struggling in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Backed by memorable images, the subjects do all the talking. No voiceover tells viewers what to make of it all, but it’s hard not to be swayed by the filmmakers’ craft. Klein and Fine have a broader mission than to entertain. They want to influence the future of food from production to consumption. Broadcasting via the Web, with traffic from Facebook, Twitter and The Huffington Post as well as other media, has given “The Perennial Plate” a larger distribution than they could have imagined.
These filmmakers believe that personalized, captivating storytelling is more effective than showing movies with a big agenda about changing the world.
“The work seems effective when it’s not shoved down people’s throats. They get excited because it’s exciting or inspiring,” He said. “People come on the journey with us.”
This is a series, at heart, about a boyfriend and girlfriend on the ultimate road trip, connecting with people and confronting with compassion the difficult realities of their lives. Even Fine who spends nearly all her time behind the camera said, “We open ourselves up. I really care about them and I’m really sad when we leave.”
With continuing input and tips from their followers and viewers, these food adventurers will find more uplifting and true stories about eating and health within local communities and environments everywhere they go. Season 3 of “The Perennial Plate” will feature a biweekly video from around the globe through the spring of 2014.
Photo: Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine of “The Perennial Plate.” Credit: Fran Collin of work-for-food.com