For the past two years, I've been watching Borgen, a Dutch television series which tracks a female politician who rises to become prime minister. The series is quite entertaining and actually addictive, since the stong-willed but principled leader is someone you could relate to: Season 1 began with her riding her bicycle to Parliament. It deals with the conflict of work and home life, and all the intrigue of multi-party politics.
I've only had access to Borgen online, at linkTV, careful to watch the shows in the two-week window after they air on cable. (Season 1 and Season 2 are out on DVD). I've found the themes fascinating. They focus on immigration, right wing free marketers, left-wing social issues, the greens and, of course, The Media, which is ever-present as the third wheel in the story. It's narrative drama, well done.
But I was very surprised by the most recent episode, in season 3, which took up the issue of Danish hog farming and the use of anibiotics in confined animal operations. Now, this is pretty wonky stuff in the US, and it hasn't made much headway in breaking out of food and policy circles. But in Demark, industrial hog farming is obviously the stuff of television drama, including the memorable line from a farmer who says he doesn't eat the confined hogs he produces but rather the swine out back, in a field.
During the episode, when issues of antibiotic use and humane treatment of hogs break out in the media, a right wing politican who is also a hog farmer declares: "We make a product for the supermarket!" (You can almost hear the echoes of agribusinesses declaring, "We feed the world!"). The show had just featured this politician docking the tail of a baby pig. When he's questioned about these practices repeatedly, he finally bursts out: "We produce garbage because that's what people want to eat." But the show is not entirely one sided, and highlights the difficulties these farmers face.
We've got good television writers in the US, so David Simon (The Wire) please take note: there are great dramatic possibilities when it comes to food but this is about the best I've seen. Here's the link to episode (24), but it will expire online within a couple of weeks.
It makes for riviting television.