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What’s the Deal with All the Mentions of Organic Foods in ‘Spencer’?

In the Kristen Stewart semi-biopic of Princess Diana, one of Prince Charles’s longtime obsessions gets its day in the sun

Kristen Stewart as Princess, standing in the darkened hallway of a palace wearing a strapless gold evening gown and a string of pearls, in Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer.” Courtesy of Neon

Before the Princess Diana sort-of-biopic Spencer released in late 2021, there were very few questions left to be asked about the much-beloved Princess of Wales. Despite the insistence of podcasts, books, musicals, and documentaries — many of them released in the past five years — that no wait there is more to learn about one of pop culture’s most publicly exposed women, pretty much all we’ll ever get to know about the Peoples’ Princess is already out there, even and especially the fact that she liked to wear bike shorts and sweatshirts.

Kristen Stewart films tend to inspire intrigue, though, due to the fact that Kristen Stewart is in them, and while Spencer was less a historical artifact than a psychological phantasmagoria, there seemed to be new addition to the canon of Diana that caught many American audiences — largely watching Spencer to blindly critique Kristen Stewart’s British accent — off guard.

Why were there so many repeated mentions of organic foods?

Another question you might have is “Why is anyone writing about Spencer now, so many months after the film came out?” And the answer is that the Academy Awards are this Sunday and Kristen Stewart is nominated for Best Actress. Now back to organic vegetables.

Much of the movie takes place in and around the kitchen of the queen’s Sandrigham House, where the royal family is spending the 1991 Christmas holiday. The deliberate focus is on Diana’s eating disorder, and the coldheartedness with which the royal family treats her (about that and everything else). She finds friendship in her royal dresser and the kitchen’s head chef, Darren McGrady, who throughout the movie barks wartime platitudes at his kitchen staff and lists all the delicious things the royal family will be eating for dinner.

“Organic carrots. Please be careful which box we take the carrots from because he will bloody check,” McGrady says to the staff, the “he” here being Prince Charles. “Parsnips — again, organic. Finally, a selection of sweet and savory organic biscuits. Organic biscuits from..?”

“Highgrove, chef,” the staff responds.

For a common consumer, especially in America, the word “organic” feels like it only became a popular part of the food lexicon in the past ten or fifteen years. The facts back that up: According to a paper published by the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, between 2001 and 2011, global farmland dedicated to organic farming multiplied by 2.3. While he can’t be held entirely responsible for that worldwide development, Prince Charles was one of the early adopters of organic farming. You bet your ass he was going to check those carrots.

In 1985, six full years prior to the Christmas dinner where Stewart’s Diana eats a bowl full of pearls (in movie alone, we hope), Charles converted his Duchy House farm on his Highgrove Estate to all organic growing methods, sparking controversy and disdain from the British public, press, and farmers who believed he was a backwards-ass Luddite. (His declaration that he spoke to his plants was torn apart by tabloids.) Over two decades later, when organic farming and foods became more available and a more popular eco-conscious choice, Charles was given his time in the sun to say “I told you so” to all his early doubters:

“Hundreds of varieties have been lost,” Reuters reported in 2007 about an interview that ran on the BBC. “...wonderful things that our forefathers took enormous trouble to develop, which in many cases are resistant to all sorts of prevalent diseases.

“Which is why I’ve been going on for all these years — to a chorus of ridicule — about the importance of protecting and preserving rare native breeds of cattle, sheep, pig and chicken.

“And sure enough, now, surprise surprise, they’re beginning to come back. But the craziness of what we’ve done to this world — lunacy.”

It’s not exactly clear why it was so important to give shine to Charles’s preoccupation with organic foods in a movie in which he was not the focus (perhaps to demonstrate another food pressure that Diana grappled with). But it does reveal one more thing about who Princess Diana was dealing with during their marriage: someone who was extremely right about something — then loved to act sanctimonious about it. That’s something universally relatable, whether you’re a princess or pauper.