Warning: This Film May Give You Hives

Basically, the bees are bailing on us. And without their powers of pollination, a wide range of crops, from almonds to zucchinis, could be about to vanish from our lives, along with the bees.
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Are you ready for the Every Third Bite diet? Like many weight loss strategies, it relies on portion control. But the Every Third Bite diet--unlike any other diet I know of--won't require any will power on your part. It works by simply eliminating one third of our nation's food supply.

The secret to its success? Crop failure, brought to you courtesy of colony collapse disorder (CCD). Basically, the bees are bailing on us. And without their powers of pollination, a wide range of crops, from almonds to zucchinis, could be about to vanish from our lives, along with the bees.

"Oh, no, that would be terrible!," as a delightfully dorky, gap-toothed kid declares in the opening moments of Every Third Bite, the short but sweet documentary on our embattled honeybees that premiered last week at the Media That Matters film festival. Every Third Bite delivers a stinging truth: at the end of the day, our hyper-industrialized system of agriculture can't wing it without these fuzzy little farm workers, who get schlepped from state to state like mini migrants to pollinate about $15 billion dollars worth of fruit, nut and vegetable crops each season.

Häagen-Dazs, faced with a meltdown over the loss of key ingredients for nearly half its ice cream flavors, has launched a campaign to help save the honeybees, donating $250,000 to help fund research on the cause of CCD. Scientists are still puzzling over whether this new malady is caused by pesticides, viruses, mites, a fungus, or some combination thereof. Stress and poor nutrition may be weakening the bees' immune systems, too.

Mary Woltz, one of Every Third Bite's small scale beekeepers, notes that commercial beekeepers, in order to survive, have to harvest all the honey from their hives, leaving none for the bees, who are fed high fructose corn syrup instead. Woltz, by contrast, sets aside enough of the honey from her hives to feed her bees in the winter and spring.

But industrial beekeeping not only deprives bees of their natural diet, it puts them on a grueling work schedule, shuttling them from one farm to the next all season long. As David Graves, a New Yorker who tends a dozen hives on the rooftops of New York City, tells the filmmakers:

"People say, well, you keep your hives in New York City, poor bees! But they don't realize that there's such a variety of plants down here, and I don't move the hives, so there is a period of time during the summer and in the fall when they rest. Bees need to rest just as us humans do."

But if CCD's such a problem, why is there still plenty of produce to be found on our store shelves and at the farmers' markets? In fact, in the year since CCD was first recognized as a new and distinct threat, commercial beekeepers have suffered a historic loss of 36 percent of their hives, up about 13 percent from the previous year. We haven't seen a corresponding drop in food production because, as Monday's Quad City Times reports, "beekeepers are working hard to build back their hives."

And, as Every Third Bite shows, there are plenty of individuals doing their part to help solve the bee crisis, too, with folks taking up small scale beekeeping from rural gardens to urban rooftops. Every Third Bite takes us to the Chicago Honey Co-op, founded in 2004 in a community with few job opportunities, to "help people who wanted to be employed learn beekeeping," as co-founder Dr. Shamuel Israel explains.

David Graves, the New Yorker who's been a beekeeper since the early 80's, dreams of a day when all of New York City will break out in hives. Waving at the acres of bare asphalt surrounding one of his hi-rise apiaries, he says:

"Look at all the empty rooftops where we could be growing things. The sky's the limit. This city could support easily a thousand hives--easily. I'm just the tip of the iceberg...it takes a lot of people to pull this off, people working together, like the bees."

And speaking of people working together, The Meerkat Media Collective, who created Every Third Bite, have managed the rare feat of making an uplifting short about a downbeat subject. As New York magazine noted, Every Third Bite's chosen topic "could make for a very alarmist narrative," but by focusing on America's amateur apiarists, Meerkat's given us "a better bee movie," an antidote to the scary stats on the state of our for-hire honeybees.

As with all the shorts featured in the Media That Matters festival, you can watch the entire 9-minute movie on their website, which also provides links to several sites where you can take action, whether by learning which bee-friendly plants to grow in your own garden, buying local honey, or starting a hive of your own. To bee, or not to bee; that, literally, is the question. Every Third Bite combs through the web of issues that surrounds CCD and extracts a honey of an answer: we can all do something to help combat CCD. And thank goodness, too, because the prospect of ice cream with no fruits or nuts is pretty chilling.

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