Suzanne Crocker is a documentary filmmaker living in Dawson City, Yukon. Her latest film, First We Eat, follows Suzanne, her husband and their three children, as they embark on a year-long mission to eat exclusively locally hunted, fished, gathered, grown or raised food.
First We Eat is currently streaming online as part of the 39th Annual Vancouver Film Festival, through October 7th. (Individual tickets are already sold out, but VIFF subscribers in BC are entitled to watch it any time over the course of the festival.) Coinciding with VIFF’s presentation of the Crocker family’s filmic expedition, we tossed another much smaller challenge at the documentarian, in the form of five interview questions…
This isn’t the first time that you’ve documented your family attempting an environmental challenge. What inspires you to take such extreme measures and then, furthermore, film and publicize the process?
My family often asks themselves this same question!
You are correct, in my previous documentary, All The Time In The World, we took our three young kids and spent 9 months, over the winter, living in a small and isolated cabin in the Yukon wilderness without electricity, internet, cell phones, running water and not a single clock or watch. It turned out to be one of the best years of our life as a family.
My husband would say I have a tendency to austerity. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as making life better. Fundamentally, I believe in ‘practice what you preach’. I am drawn towards the concepts of sustainability, living within our geographic means, the strength of community, the importance of in-person human interactions, and trying my best to live in a way that respects and protects the planet.
Why do I film the experience? First off, I must say that when I get an idea I feel passionately about, making the change becomes the priority and the decision to film it is secondary. But I love story telling through film and I believe in the power of story. So filming the experience becomes a way to share our story more widely and hopefully entertain, inspire and provide ‘food for thought’ in the process.
And by filming an authentic experience with my family involved, I know that the story will naturally contain lots of humour!
Imagine for an instance that your own mother had foisted the very same challenge on you, growing up – how do you think you would have reacted and fared?
That’s interesting to reflect on. I feel like I would have gone with it. My mother, like me, was always trying new things and pushing her boundaries. My mother, unlike me, was a very good cook and was ‘The Cook’ for the family. I clearly remember gallon containers of local maple syrup and my mother tediously pitting blue grapes to make a blue grape crisp when they were in season. I also remember my mother enrolling in a Chinese cooking course when I was in high school and revelling in the food that she brought home afterwards – which, at that time, was very much outside of our usual food comfort zone. And I was always into experimenting.
I recall one very bad food experiment when I tried to make home-made ‘pop tarts’ by smearing icing over both sides of a white bread jam sandwich. (Did I mention that I’ve never been a very good cook!). So I actually think that, as long as my Mom was still cooking for me, I would have been fine with it and I would have been intrigued. Of course this is in hindsight after many years, so maybe I am giving my teenage self more credit than I deserve.
I suspect that, like my kids, I would have been less than thrilled if she roped me into hours of slicing sugar beets or picking berries!
Photos by Cathie Archbould, Alex Hakonson and Suzanne Crocker.
What was the most surprising discovery about Dawson City that you unearthed in the process of eating locally (perhaps something that was under your nose all along?) How about the most surprising self discovery?
In Dawson, many folks live up, down or across from rivers – often with no road access. Many of these people I knew through their town jobs, but I had no idea that, back home, they were also producing food! Cultivating large berry farms, beekeeping, even raising sheep! I, like most of Dawson, was also unaware that we had dairy cows in our community, because they were also ‘out of sight’ on the far side of a river with no road access.
When I started spending time with our local farmers I was amazed by the size of the greenhouses and the expanse of the fields they were cultivating single handedly!
Another surprise was discovering that so many of the wild plants, that I had previously dismissed as weeds, were actually edible. Chickweed, yarrow, stinging nettle, dandelion, plantain, lambsquarter, fireweed, pineapple weed – the list goes on and on.
One day I asked Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder, Victor Henry, to take me foraging for wild rhubarb, as I didn’t know how to identify it. We drove about 10 km out of town and harvested a nice basket full. When I got back home again, I was shocked to see that I had wild rhubarb growing in my own yard, literally under my nose, and had never known what it was. Victor taught me to see with new eyes! ‘Seeing with new eyes’ became the mantra for my year. As for surprising discoveries about myself – there were so many!
1) How adaptable I am.
2) That I could (happily) live without chocolate and caffeine.
3) How my tastebuds became hyper alive without salt. At first, without salt, everything tasted bland. But then the flavours of the food shone forth.
4) What a joy it is to eat seasonally.
5) I also discovered that I do better with limitations. Give me a limited number of ingredients and my creativity in the kitchen blossomed. Give me an endless variety of ingredients at the store, and I become paralyzed by choice.
As a (seemingly) fearless, strong willed and confident woman, filmmaker and mother, I assume you’ve encountered plenty of naysayers and roadblocks in your career (but please correct me if I’m wrong!). Speaking from personal experience, what advice can you offer for women wanting to push their own limits – through film, environmentally, or otherwise in life?
Trust your instincts. When I was nineteen, my mother died. I found a poem tucked in her drawer and it contained this line: “There are some who would say that it couldn’t be done but she, with a chuckle, replied. That maybe it couldn’t, but she would be one, who wouldn’t say no till she tried.” That has stuck with me.
Do you have plans to tackle any more lifestyle challenges in the near future?
Not that my family knows about!