One Family's Journey From Foodborne-Illness Victim to "Food Patriots"

A quick post today, because I have deadlines, and because this Kickstarter closes tomorrow and you should take a look at it while you can.

In February of 2006, when he was 16 years old, Sam Spitz went out for lunch with his high school pals. They were athletes, and looking for a big meal, so they went to a pizza-pasta place. Sam, though, had an inkling of healthy eating from his mother, Jennifer Amdur Spitz, who liked to shop at farmers’ markets. He chose a chicken Caesar salad instead.

By the end of the school day, it seemed like a bad choice. He developed diarrhea so severe that Jennifer and his dad, Jeff Spitz, had to tape an adult diaper on him to get him to the emergency room. The ER staff assumed it was a foodborne illness, took a culture, and sent them home with a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

It had no effect. It took weeks, along with visits to specialists and more tests and more drugs and eventually a colonoscopy, before the family discovered that what had felled the strapping young athlete was an antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness: Campylobacter, a bug that frequently travels on chicken.

Sam Spitz was seriously sick for a month and recovering for many more. He was a pitcher, but missed his entire baseball season, along with the chance to be inspected by college recruiters. He was still on restricted activity when the football recruiters came around the following fall. He eventually recovered (and played football for University of Wisconsin) — but his family’s attitude toward food and food safety was forever changed.

The Spitzes, who are award-winning filmmakers, have documented their journey to a better understanding of our food system in a new film that they are now polishing, called “Food Patriots.” In it, they talk not only about their own dawning understanding of how our food is produced, but also about many other people who are trying to get food grown and distributed in a healthier, more equitable way.

“We were really insulated, as a family, from knowing where our food comes from, and from having the awareness that allows you to make healthy choices,” Jennifer told me. “But this film has a much bigger footprint than just our journey. We’re in it to provide a narrative, and some humor — but what we do is look at people who are inspiring us to think about, buy and eat food differently.”

The Spitzes are in their last 24 hours on their Kickstarter. They have made their initial goal, which was to fund post-production — but in the last day, they’ve been offered a match by a major donor. Anything they receive today will be doubled by the donor, and those funds will be spent getting the film out to communities for screenings.

Jennifer described the film to me as “zero-depth” — like the kind of public pool where you can stand at the end with just your toes wet, and move deeper at your own pace. “There have been a lot of scary, hit-you-over-the-head food films already, and people have already responded to that approach,” she said. “We don’t preach. We want to get people into conversation.”

Take a look.


Footnote: If antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter sounds at all familiar, it may be because I wrote about it in my two-year investigation of foodborne illness for SELF Magazine last summer. Here’s that story and my post about it.




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