Chicago-based filmmakers Matt Wechsler and Annie Speicher's powerful documentary, Sustainable, had its world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. Its premise isn't earth-shaking; we've been told for years that industrialized agriculture isn't good for the planet. But the couple wants viewers to be inspired and empowered. And that includes a big helping of savory oat risotto.

sustainable filmmakers Matt Wechsler and Annie Speicher
Sustainable's filmmakers at Seattle's Pike Place Market. Photo by Leslie Kelly

The couple calls Sustainable their passion project, which began with a crowd-sourcing campaign to fund the independent movie. The seeds for Sustainable were planted years ago, going back to the days when Annie helped introduce Matt to the idea of eating seasonally. "I was an adult before I ever tasted fresh asparagus," said Matt, who grew up in a home where they ate Kosher food and that was often processed. Annie's background was the exact opposite: "My mom was really good about cooking us real food, food with flavor at a time when it was the trend to eat more processed and frozen foods."

What's Sustainable?

In taking on this subject, the couple's mission was to create awareness. They want consumers to understand and appreciate what it means to support sustainable agriculture. "We got frustrated seeing the way the term sustainable has been misused, used on the back of a box of crackers. We wanted to show that it means returning to smaller farms, and rotating crops. We have to strive to stand up against the industrial system, and you can do that in the grocery store or by shopping at farmers markets," Matt said. That approach seems out of reach for many budgets, but the two practice what they believe in, and offered some tips on how to make good-for-the-earth choices.

  • Roasts are a great option. "Some of the finer cuts of meat are very expensive, but you can get a pasture-raised roast for around $9 a pound and it will feed your family for four days," Annie said.
  • Dried beans are another inexpensive protein that's part of the rotation crops that are planted in between harvests of vegetables to replenish nitrogen in the soil.
  • Oats, rye and barley are also beneficial for boosting nutrients in the soil, and line up with the surge in grain-based Buddha Bowls.
  • Get to know a farmer. "Visit a farm, ask farmers you trust for recommendations," Annie said. On a tight budget? Ask if there are seconds available, slightly blemished produce that is typically sold at a discount.
  • Have your kiddos help. Engaging the littlest palates at the table helps instill the importance of making choices based on celebrating seasonal flavors.

Savory Oat Risotto

Matt shared his recipe for a satisfying twist on the classic Italian dish that can be served as a side, or when paired with some kind of protein, the main course. Though the recipe calls for chicken stock — preferably homemade from free-range birds — using veggie broth instead turns this preparation vegan. "Oats are such an important rotation crop, I wanted to come up with a different way of cooking them," he said. Mission accomplished!

savory oat risotto
Photo by Leslie Kelly

Explore More Steel Cut Oats Dishes: