More Than Just an Almond
by Meg Van Cleve
McFarland, USA tells the story of a high school football coach (Kevin Costner) who relocates with his family to McFarland, a small, rural town in California. Costner plays Jim White, or Coach White, a name that draws attention to his race in a town where the majority population is Latino. Coach White learns that many of his students work in the crop fields with their parents before and after school, running long distances daily in the California heat to support their family and get an education. Abandoning football, Coach White starts a cross-country team that finds success as both Coach White and his athletes learn what it means to be a community.
People in McFarland have a complex relationship with food. The town is built upon agriculture, surrounded by fields and fields of produce. Most of the community work as “pickers”, or field workers who harvest crops like oranges, cabbage, or almonds. Coach White observes his students running from work to school and sometimes back to work, day after day in the blazing sun. Most can’t see themselves every leaving McFarland, and Coach White learns this reality as one of his best runners has a breakdown and quits the team. Coach White had been leading hill training on piles of almond hulls, as pictured above in Figure 1. However, food is also respected and revered in the McFarland community, particularly in communal settings. Coach White earns the respect of his students’ families only when he comes to their family dinner, walking away with an overflowing container of enchilada leftovers. Fundraisers for the cross-country team involve food sales of tamales and other traditional dishes, cooked with love by families of the team. The McFarland community even throws a Quinceañera for Coach White’s daughter, telling Coach White to get out of the way as they cook a feast in his kitchen and prepare a celebration for his family. The McFarland team overcomes adversity to win the state title, starting a cross country program that has sustained multiples titles and students since. McFarland, USA exposes a dark side to food production, particularly the way it treats its workers and communities. However, there is a silver lining in the way food is shown to be a comfort and a necessity in fostering community.
Caro, N. (2015). McFarland, USA. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.