“A nation’s craving for fast food and fast cars all boils down to a flowered van that smells like a french fry.” -The Today Show
Rejoice all ye freethinking, tree-hugging, Darwinist liberals! Just when we’re feeling at our absolute worst, bracing for “Four More Years!” (to be droned in a militantly Southern accent), here comes a little film about a not-so little idea to warm our troubled hearts. It’s “The Veggie Van Voyage” and it… may have already come to a town near you. Think back a few years, from ‘97 to mid-‘99, to be exact. Do you recall seeing a cadre of folksy college types cruising around in a folksy, flower-painted van that smelled like freedom fries? Okay, so we called them french fries back then, but you get the idea. If you were among the fortunate to catch a whiff, then you were in the presence of the Veggie Van, a vehicle powered solely by vegetable oil and good old American know how. It’s the “slick solution even big oil can’t keep down”.
The Veggie Van is the brainchild of one Joshua Tickell, who also directed and produced the film. As Tickell tells it, he had two loves growing up: french fries and fast cars. After he matured somewhat and attended the New College of South Florida, one of those “alternative” universities, his two childhood loves resurfaced, with the exception that “fast cars” had become a flowered Winnebago. Enamored with the idea of using clean, efficient biodiesel fuel, specifically used fryer oil, as an alternative to regular old polluting oil, Tickell and his crunchy buds set about converting a donated van into the famed Veggie Van. Besides the facelift, the conversion also required a means of sucking the fat from the used oil. Thus the Green Grease Machine, and a star, was born. Once it was up and running, the team, led by fearless leader Tickell, climbed aboard and set out for a two and a half year American tour. On its merry voyage, the van was a regular of Long John Silver’s (a sponsor and delighted fuel supplier), an education model on wheels, and a shameless darling of TV, radio, and print.
Bless its little heart, “The Veggie Van Voyage” is a delight to both hippies and progressive-minded non-hippies alike. The concept of burning used fryer oil to make our cars/trucks/buses/boats/planes go almost makes so much sense that you know it’ll be awhile before it ever really catches on, at least four more years by my reckoning. As long as certain administrations hold certain interests in certain parts of the world, the battle to bring cleaner, rapidly renewable fuel to the marketplace will be an arduous one. Through his entertaining and enlightening short, Tickell shows that he’s at least willing to fight the good fight and get the message out. It should be said though that “The Veggie Van Voyage” is less an actual film than it is a glorified commercial, or perhaps a bargain-rate infomercial. Tickell is clearly a passionate innovator and promoter, but in attempting to document his baby, he regrettably condenses the whole fascinating story into a mere 12 minutes. Everyone loves the Veggie Van, so why not give it the time in the spotlight it deserves? Granted, Tickell did write a book (“From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank”) and got plenty of media coverage driving around in his flower-powered van. Of course, he’s also not a professional filmmaker. I just wish the van’s origin and cross-country adventures could have been fleshed out some more, at least enough to make “Veggie Van” an interesting companion piece to say, the much beefier “Super Size Me”. (The DVD does include a 30-minute interview with Tickell that offers some greater insight.) In any case, here’s to hoping the voyage of the Veggie Van never ends!