Food Fight: History as Told by Cuisine

Bratwurst assault destroys a population of fish and chips. Kebabs and lox bagels engage in a lethal standoff. And Vietnamese spring rolls face off against croissants and hamburgers. Food Fight, Stefan Nadelman’s epic short depicting the history of 20th century American warfare with food, uses computer-generated stop-motion techniques to depict real food engaged in deadly combat. And it’s racked up more than 1.5 million views in the two weeks it’s been on YouTube.

“Before and after the film was completed,” Nadelman writes on his web site, “the friends I screened it to fell into two camps: You Should Have Captions and You Shouldn’t Have Captions. I felt that if I added captions it would be too easy.” He made the right choice; the lack of captions inspires a level of engagement that enhances the film’s power. Without reading Nadelman’s cheat sheet, I didn’t immediately understand some moments, notably the kimchi and the Cuban sandwiches. But there are some beats — some battles — that require no context.

There’s actually an odd conflict at the heart of this piece, as the basic nature of the medium gives the earlier moments of Food Fight a sense of whimsy. A modern audience doesn’t have an emotional connection to the events of Pearl Harbor, after all, and thus seeing pieces of sushi commit kamikaze attacks on Big Macs is almost funny. But the whimsy of this piece dissolves fast as the path of history leads us to modern conflicts. Watching a pair of falafels take down twin towers of hamburger, accompanied by the sounds of exploding meat, is especially unnerving, and the followup depictions of nighttime bombing raids by chicken nuggets and suicide bomber attacks only escalate that unease.

Although it made its YouTube debut two weeks ago, Food Fight has actually been circulating for quite some time, premiering at the 2006 ResFest and getting high traffic on its AtomFilms page since the summer of 2007. Unexpectedly, the greatest tragedy captured by this film is that two years later, the final conflicts of Food Fight remain relevant to today.