Moynié: “Food is an excuse to meet people from all walks of life."

A taste of the road

Ethnographer Bruno Moynié's road trip into the American South

Imagine you are sitting down to eat, when all of a sudden you look up and see a bald, middle aged man, wearing a large skull ring and a dark t-shirt, who introduces himself to you with these words, spoken with thick French accent: “Hi, you don’t know me, I’ve received a grant of a few thousand dollars so I can hang around to film an art project of people and what they eat. Can I film you eating? What you having for dinner?”

This might seem unusual, maybe even indecent. But this is pretty much how ethnographer Bruno Moynié approached a number of his subjects in his recent project: “The Taste of the Road”. This artistic project, made possible by a grant from the Art Council of Ontario, allowed Moynié to pursue that romantic fantasy of life on the road, in the American south. Beginning in Detroit, Moynié’s project took him down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, with many stops and many dinners along the way.


Understandably, many of Moynié’s subjects were taken aback by this request. “Why me?” They would ask, “I’m not special. My dinner is not special.” Many of us would likely react in the same way. Little did they know that for Moynié, dinner was nothing but an excuse to learn more about their lives.

“Food is an excuse to meet people from all walks of life, and the when I meet people I’m always wondering what are they really about. I try to get them to talk about that. I am interested in hearing about where they’re coming from.”

In his many years of experience as an ethnographic filmmaker, Moynié has become aware that people are not always themselves, particularly not on camera. Something about the intimacy of dinner, however, seems to counteract this, in his opinion. “We all are pretending to be someone, and I can see which character they’ve picked. Put it aside, put down the mask. I think dinner helps them to do that. If it is an everyday dinner, it says something about your life. It is a moment that forces people to do their accounting, to question where they are in their life. And for that to be captured, for all of time on film, some people are proud of it, some not. I’m sure some people put on a special show. I tried to avoid those. Most of them were very genuine.”


Moynié was fortunate to have many people accept this unorthodox request, and filmed a total of 25 dinner portraits over 6 weeks. The ethnographer is very clear that this was, for him, an artistic and not a scientific project. He cautions that the sample of people he filmed is not representative—he did not meet and film any Hispanic people, or any real wealthy people, for example—but is simply a reflection of the people he met as he followed his instincts and his love of food and music. Having said this, Moynié was able to film some stunningly insightful films in highly diverse environments, including some he was told might be difficult to be accepted into.


One example of this is illustrated in his encounter with an older, black woman who he met in Dayton. Moynié was stopping at a soul food joint for lunch, as one must when traveling through the southern United States, when he noticed her sitting alone in a shaded seat. It was a hot day, and she was not too friendly to Moynie’s approach at first. “Hi, you don’t know me…” Ultimately, however, she did allow and welcomed him to shoot her family’s dinner, allowing him to capture intimate moments.

From this point, Moynié described most of his encounters as arising from a pulling on the chain. He would end up shooting another person he’d met at the juke joint, a man whose mother had recently passed away and who took solace in the music of the place to heal. Not all of his encounters, however, were so serendipitous. He often began his filming in a given city with an appointment pre-set for him by a friend or acquaintance. For example, a fellow filmmaker in London, England introduced him (via email) to an up and coming American Lebanese filmmaker living in Detroit. She introduced him to her aunt, an older Lebanese woman, who so proudly displayed her culture and love of Lebanon on film. She then recommended that Moynié visit a group of friends she had, all of whom were struggling with the rising poverty in Detroit and ate together once a week to ensure that they were all getting something to eat.


While the project on a whole was a unequivocal success, there were absolutely encounters that did not go as Moynié might have planned. Set appointments were on many occasions missed, indefinitely rescheduled, or simply not honoured. Some of Moynié’s ambitions, such as his desire to meet and film the dinner of a resident of one of the sprawling trailer parks that peppered his trip down the coast, were not realized despite many attempts and set appointments. “And I really tried! I took one day and was just calling trailer parks. One guy was really nice, he was trying to help me out, to set me up with some of his tenants. He tried, but it didn’t work out.” Nevertheless, by pursuing this, Moynie gleaned some information that contributed to his written road-diary: a northern Irish lady who was the partner of the trailer park owner confessed the general atmosphere, the racial division in particular, which reminded her too much of her childhood in Belfast.


On the other hand, Moynie managed to find some things he wasn’t looking for. He was astonished to experience the extent, even to this day, of strict racial divisions in most of the cities that he visited and amazed by the poverty and the resilience that he encountered along the road, a constant reminder of the lingering paradoxes still prevalent in the United States of America. Neither were discoveries Moynie had expected to make in the United States of America. Which just goes to show, you never know what insights will be served when you sit down to dinner.

By Aliah El-houni, Peeps

Bruno Moynie is one of a handful of bona fide anthropologist filmmakers working the market and design research industry. He holds two Masters degrees, one in Social Anthropology from Aix-En-Provence University, France and in Ethnographic Film from the University of Montreal, Canada. He is a Frenchman based in Toronto and Paris, however his work takes him all over the world. To see videos and explore in detail Bruno Moynie’s “The Taste of the Road”, visit:, or see his corporate work at his company website:

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TAGS /Bruno Moynié; Aliah El-houni / Culture / ethnography / food /
  • Great to read about your process and reflections from this trip, Bruno. It would be cool to see a map of all of the places you visited.

    • Thanks for your comments Amy, you might enjoy Bruno’s wonderful project website “The Taste of the Road.” There he’s documented his adventures along with maps and videos. Well worth the visit!

  • Nice article and a very cool project!