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A Food Poisoning Spree Plays a Crucial Role in Netflix’s ‘Wild Wild Country’

A look at how food is featured in Netflix’s documentary series, plus TV recommendations and entertainment news

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Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Wild Wild Country

This post originally appeared on April 6, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

For this week’s menu of movies and TV shows worth checking out, we have an unbelievable new documentary, two awards season darlings, and a charming new travel program. Here are some ideas for what to watch this weekend, along with a roundup of the latest food-related entertainment news:

Food is a weapon in Netflix’s scorching new documentary

The sannyasins following Ranjeesh’s Rolls Royce
Wild Wild Country/Netflix

Wild Wild Country, a new docuseries about Indian-born spiritual guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his legions of followers, is one of Netflix’s most compulsively watchable recent arrivals. Each installment of this six-part series is full of unbelievable moments, including instances in which Rajneesh’s acolytes deviously used food and restaurants to thwart their enemies.

Much of the documentary focuses on the years-long conflict between the people of the tiny Central Oregon town of Antelope, and their neighbors, the sexually fixated, purple-and-pink-clad disciples of Rajneesh — the “sannyasins” — who set up a sprawling, city-like compound called Rajneeshpuram. The compound had a man-made lake, a discoteque, an airstrip, and even its own pizzeria.

After the people of Antelope denied a business permit for the compound, Rajneesh’s inner circle started buying up commercial properties in a bid to take over the neighboring town. The sannyasins decided to turn a local greasy spoon, the Antelope Cafe, into a vegetarian diner called Zorba the Buddha. “Now bananas, not bacon, fry on the grill,” a local reporter remarked. “To many Antelope residents, the cafe exemplifies what’s happening to their town.”

Wild Wild Country

In an attempt to sway a county election, the sannyasins started recruiting homeless people from cities all along the west coast, promising them a place to stay and free beer every night in exchange for their votes as new citizens. But once these members of Rajneeshpuram began agitating the paying tenants of the compound, Baghwan’s lackeys started lacing their beer with a powerful sedative called Haldol.

In 1984, the sannyasins also tried to influence the election by contaminating salad bars at restaurants in nearby town The Dalles, where there was a strong anti-Rajneesh voting contingent. An estimated 750 people got sick from salmonella-contaminated food at 10 restaurants, including popular chains Taco Time and Burgerville, in what was the first and largest bioterrorism attack in America. Their plan backfired, though, as the poisoning spree only further mobilized the people of The Dalles to vote against the Rajneesh-endorsed candidates.

Wild Wild Country weaves several personal narratives into one epic story that is truly stranger than fiction. You’re going to want to watch this one with a friend, so that you can discuss the finer points of this saga between the episodes.

Do you have a favorite food-related documentary? Reply to this email or join the discussion over on our Eat, Drink, Watch Facebook group.

Streaming selections du jour

A24/Florida Project

The Florida Project

Watch it on: iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play

Phantom Thread

Watch it on: iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Place

The gist: Two of 2017’s best films are now available to stream, and both of them fold food into their narratives in unexpected ways.

The pint-sized stars of The Florida Project spend their days scamming Disney World tourists in the motel zone around the park, and using that hard-earned cash to buy ice cream and other decadent treats. One of the most memorable — and heartbreaking — scenes in the film involves a complimentary breakfast buffet. Sean Baker’s acclaimed film is now available to watch free of charge for Amazon Prime members.

The protagonists of Paul Thomas Anderson’s lush fashion industry thriller Phantom Thread use food to both seduce and manipulate each other. The breakfast scenes are highlights, and Andreson just released a deleted scene that shows his main characters getting into a food fight that involves tea, jam, and carrot juice.

The Zimmern List, “Portland, Maine”

Watch it on: Amazon Video, iTunes

The gist: The Portland, Maine episode of Andrew Zimmern’s new travel show is a great thing to watch if you’re planning to visit any coastal destinations this summer. Zimmern clearly has a long history in this part of the country, and he knows the best places for any type of meal you could possibly want to have. Episode highlights include a visit to Red’s Eats, a local institution that has been peddling lobster rolls for over 75 years, and the Holy Donut, a newer establishment that makes its signature treats out of mashed potatoes.

In other entertainment news…

Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for something to make for breakfast or brunch, consider whipping up this double-fluffed American omelet from the Egg Shop in NYC.