At first glance, the documentary, What Should I Put in My Coffee?, directed by Jon Lanthier, seems pretty simple, both in terms of substance and style. But as its 86-minute runtime ticks by, a seemingly straightforward question morphs into an informative look at the food chain supply and an engrossing personal odyssey for the filmmaker. Wisely, it also talks to people on all sides of the debate, making for a well-rounded take on its subjects.
Lanthier asks the titular question, and to find the answers he does the logical thing: he Googles it. Lanthier finds a hotly debated topic with charges of animal abuse being levied against those who use cream, while soy’s detractors deride it for its estrogen levels. Finding himself confused and fascinated by all of this, the director sets about interviewing dairy farmers, an animal law attorney, nutritionist, activist, and food journalist. Through these interviews, he hears why and how humans domesticated animals, sees how harmful some practices involved with dairy farming can be for the livestock, yet discovers that the farmers love their cows and are not doing these things to be cruel. Of course, there is much more to hear and learn, but that is what makes the film so fascinating.
See, every answer or new discovery raises another question that Lanthier feels compelled to answer. As such, What Should I Put in My Coffee? proves to be a treasure trove of information. While some of it is researchable, the interviews really give context and heart to the proceedings. Adam Karp, the animal law attorney, is passionate as he discusses the cruelty of separating a calf from its mother. But, one of the dairy farmers talks about how and why it is a good idea to do that (not all dairy cows make for good mothers). Hearing these two viewpoints with a compassionate, engaging ear, as Lanthier does not pass judgment on anyone he talks to, is compelling stuff.
“…hired two people to act out the creamer vs. milk alternative debate…”
The highlight of the film is a sequence utilizing actors. The filmmaker hired two people to act out the creamer vs. milk alternative debate as a little play. He wrote it via comments from various social media sites, and the results are insane.
In terms of presentation, this is very much a talking-heads documentary. Obviously, there is footage of the farms he visits and a fun bit involving all the different kinds of milk/milk alternatives being poured into coffee. But, it is all shot in medium close-ups and a bit dull visually speaking. However, because Lanthier is also the host/narrator of the project, a genuinely intimate atmosphere emerges, as he directly asks or states what the viewer is thinking in most scenes. It allows for a true connective tissue between the film and the audience that is rarely achieved by other productions.
What What Should I Put in My Coffee? lacks in style it makes up for in heart and a shockingly large canvas, all the while maintaining an intimate setting that allows the audience to feel like true participants in everything that happens. Lanthier’s film is a must-watch for those interested in animal rights activism, coffee, or the food chain supply.
"…allows for a true connective tissue between the film and the audience that is rarely achieved..."