on May 8, 2009
I found this a highly unusual and visually fascinating documentary about primary food production, both animal and vegetable. The lack of any sort of commentary initially annoyed me because so much of what is shown raises the question: what's going on here but after a while I found I was settling down to the rhythm of the editing. The way director Geyrhalter places the camera and then just lets it roll will grow on you. Even where there is some fast machinery the shot is invariably a static one of the equipment.
The documentary looks at fruit and vegetable production and collection, animal husbandry of chickens, cows, pigs and nicely I thought, fish farming plus a visit to a salt mine. The most eye opening thing to me was the amount of mechanization involved in food production though it seemed that the equipment had been designed to work most efficiently when the fruit, animals or fish were standard sizes. Despite the huge investment in equipment on these European farms (or plants) it was still cost effective to employ shift-workers.
There are some quirky scenes: several of workers having a break, eating or having a cigarette (these were just long static shots looking at the person); spraying everything in a slaughter house with some sort of foam (a detergent maybe) digging small holes in mounts on a field and either planting or collecting something. I would have thought an occasional black strip across the bottom of the screen with a white caption would not have hurt the integrity of the movie and helped the viewer.
Despite what others might say I found nothing shocking in the movie. This usually refers to animal slaughter but it is done in a simple straightforward way with machinery doing most of the work and rather intriguingly everything shown involving animals is done at a reasonable speed in these factories.
The movie concentrates on primary food production and not the industrial creation of processed food...maybe that's Geyrhalter's next assignment. Overall a very impressive and visually remarkable look at the subject and one of those documentaries that is certainly worth seeing more than once.
on November 24, 2009
This is a beautiful and profoundly disturbing documentary. That it manages to be both at the same time is a paradox. I'll explain a bit more how.
Like the movie Manufactured Landscapes by Edward Burtynsky, "Our Daily Bread" takes a look at aspects of our world that are not always readily accessible or known to most citizens of western countries. With a steady decline of agricultural and industrial workers over the years, most of us have little idea of what it takes to produce what we consume. This is certainly true for our food, the topic of this movie. Again, like Manufactured Landscapes, this documentary is "only" a sequence of very well composed and lit shots, without interviews or voice over. This may disturb or annoy some. I find this to be an extremely effective approach, as it makes one confront more directly ones own feelings and in the end gives more impact to the images.
While the author certainly has an agenda, I don't think it's an extremist one. He does not try to denounce the difficulty of working in the meatpacking industry or attempt to portray what is happening to the animals that will be processed as particularly horrible. His aesthetics are cold and distant, even maybe "scientist". Everyone will need to make up one's mind. But the way he frames most of his shots using highly symmetrical or geometrical compositions certainly contributes to the creation of a eery feeling of "elsewhere". That's the artistic and thematic bias of the movie: to show us that what lands on our plates comes from places we don't know about and don't think about.
One important point to note is that we typically don't get to see the end processing of the food products. Most of the steps shown are very much upstream in the food processing chain: animals are slaughtered and cut into pieces, but you don't see how they're turned into hamburgers or ready made meals. Only a few salads are packaged into plastic bags the way you will see them in supermarkets. This is very much in line with my observation above that the author is interested mostly in the less familiar. But be forewarned that while this is not a documentary about "the crap that we eat", certain images are extremely powerful and may stay with you a long time. Having watched Baraka I had already seen little chicks on conveyor belts, but this is nothing compared to the efficient violence with which bigs are cut in two and eviscerated, or full frontal cow slaughtering. The movie ends with the meat packing plant being cleaned up. It may not be so easy for you to forget what you saw. This might even be a good thing.
on November 16, 2010
Our Daily Bread, directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, is a highly informational and unique documentary about food production in Europe. The hour and 32 minutes of the film showed European laborers slaughtering and dis-assembling cows and pigs, feeding chickens, collecting chicken carcasses, herding pigs, sorting chicks, cutting and bagging lettuce, using planes to water fields of flowers, feeding and catching fish in fish farms, working in salt mines, and picking tomatoes. Occassionally, there was a short scene of a worker eating a sandwhich or smoking a cigarette while on break. Although there is no narrator describing the events of the movie, musing upon the happiness of the animals, analyzing the sanitation of the factory, or discussing the background of the workers, there is still much to learn based on observations alone. I was struck by the singular portrayal of events that are fairly early in the process of industrial food production. I thought it odd that this film did not show any processes between the first steps of production and eating, such as packaging products, grinding meat, cleaning produce before wrapping, etc. Perhaps Geyrhalter skipped such events so as to inspire viewers to consider, while grocery shopping and eating, that their food was once alive, and that gruesome death had to occur for their food to reach the table. I think he wished viewers to consider, before indulging in a meal, fatigued laborers sawing through countless pig carcasses, the trembling of cows as they shied away from their approaching murder, and the splatter of blood on the white floors of slaughtering factories. Perhaps this consideration would not cause viewers to change their eating habits, but simply to exercise awareness.
I think a very essential idea in this film was treatment of animals and plants as commodities. This treatment is evidenced in the efficient and methodical movements of the workers. Nearly every worker shown on screen was alert, and completed one simple task, such as cutting a pig carcass in half, picking tomatoes, feeding chickens, checking for dead chickens, and birthing calves, to name a few. Industrial food production is clearly a form of business, because training workers to do the same task over and over makes the cost of production lower, thereby enabling the most profit possible. I also thought that industrial food production in Europe is primarily a business, and food a commodity, after seeing workers casually tossing chicks and killing cows as if they were simply knitting a stitch in a scarf. I didn't expect the workers to coddle the animals or carefully plant each seed by hand, but I was challenged by the fact that the animals were not entitled to something as small as pain-relieving drugs before slaughter, or even a flinch on the slaughterer's face in the midst of painful squeals. I'm not sure what the figurative scarf of Europe's foodways advocates, but it seems not to advocate respect, equality, happiness, or rights.
An aspect of Our Daily Bread that I found particularly challenging was the need for distasteful jobs to be done in order to feed a country. Working in facilities portrayed in Our Daily Bread appears to be an extremely thankless and joyless job. It requires very little intellect, a constant state of alertness, and a degree of numbness to the importance of life or the pain of others. If someone enjoys mental challenges, gets tired of concentrating after long periods of time, dislikes seeing blood and death, and cannot help but have empathy toward others, then working for industrial food production corporations is not for them. The laborers in the film were probably not there because they wanted to be...will they be thanked? Probably not. It bothers me that the duty of a laborer in food production (which is necessary without drastically changing the economy or population) cannot be more dynamic, humane, respectful to the feelings and intelligence of all organisms, and joyful.
I noticed that some of the reviewers of this documentary film lauded the humane and mercifully quick way the cows, pigs, and chickens were killed. Nonetheless the image of the shudder of the cows after the lethal stun gun is pressed to their foreheads lingers horrifically.
Some reviewers thought film was funny. And there is a thread at IMDb that asks which part of the film did you find the most disgusting.
I also note that the accolades handed out for what might be called German efficiency in the way agribusiness is able to streamline the production process from conception to the trucks headed for the autobahn. Yet I found it rather disgusting to see a long, bloody slit on the side of a cow, a man's bloody hands reaching in and pulling out a new born calf in a kind of Caesarian section for the hoofed set. I presume the cow was anesthetized but somehow remained standing.
And I realize that without these amazing innovations in animal husbandry and slaughtering techniques most people even in Europe and America would find the price of meat a bit of a strain on their budgets.
I think what is bothering me is what Sir Martin Rees in another context referred to as "the yuck factor." I think it was in reference to human cloning. At any rate all the chickens, pigs and cows seen being nicely euthanized, bled, skinned, butchered and sent to market, are increasingly cookie-cuttered so that they are not far from being clones themselves. (Maybe some of them are.) At any rate being clones would make it all the easier for the carcasses to fit conveniently into the apparatuses designed for what might be called an efficient disassembly line.
One more thing about the animals: what they are is what we are: slabs of meat. There is no escape from that conclusion is part of the message of this extraordinary film which is without dialogue, without voiceover, without narration. Director Nikolaus Geyrhalter instead gives us long visual takes and background sounds on what most of us have never seen before: industrial agriculture as it is practiced in the Western world today.
Okay, now to the food that grows in the soil or just in water and beds of plastic foam. We see vast greenhouses where yellow peppers and red tomatoes thrive as they grow toward the light on vertical poles and strings, and where bored persons tread the aisles picking the ripe vegetables and putting them into boxes.
I cannot find fault with such enterprises; there is no yuck factor to experience. Geyrhalter holds the camera on the aisles and on the fields where grain, potatoes and other foods are harvested with machines of steel driven by men with computers at their sides in air conditioned cabs. The camera lingers to emphasize the vastness of the venture, and then we see the workers at their lunch as though unaware that they are being filmed. We note that they eat, and are reminded that eating is what this film is all about.
In Vedanta it is said that we humans occupy a realm that can be called "the food sheath" where we are both the eater and the eaten.
No, this grandiose efficiency does not offend somehow. What I don't like about it is how such monocultures require pesticides, weed killers and artificial fertilizers. I especially don't like the hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals. Again, however, without such artificialities we could not feed a world with seven billion souls.
Which brings me to my point: it doesn't have to be this way. If we had fewer human beings on the planet (say less than a billion) and encouraged a significant number of them to go into sustainable, truly humane and natural farming, we would not have to have industrial agriculture. And I want to add that something like one-third of the people on this planet live in poverty. There are many reasons for this, and there is hope that those numbers will decline as wealth becomes more equitably distributed. So many people living in poverty cheapens humanity. If we had fewer people on the planet relative to the planet's riches, each individual would be more valuable and less subject to manipulation by the powers that be. The worth of humanity on a per capita basis would increase. With billions living in poverty, humans are simply worth less and can be made very nearly expendable by those with the power and money.
See this powerful film at your own risk. Vegans will love it but be unable to watch it. Carnivores may lick their chops, and most people will sit before the screen as I was, spellbound.