Sunday, January 9, 2011

Our Daily Bread

I recently watched a most unusual and thought-provoking documentary titled Our Daily Bread, written and directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter. Filmed in 2005, the movie garnered a half-dozen awards at film festivals in 2005-2006. As a born-and-bred American, I am under-exposed to European sensibilities in many arenas, not the least of which is filmaking. But this film was unique in that it relied solely on the visual art form, beautifully shot, to tell its story in contrast with most films which are filled also with words.

Our Daily Bread is a documentary—but it contains no narration, no interviews, no commentary, almost no words at all. The only verbal content is the low murmurs and occasional conversations of agricultural workers in their settings. The movie visits the production facilities of a dozen or more European commercial agriculture enterprises, both meat and produce, and films what happens there. Its goal is not to shock—there are some scenes shot in meat processing facilities, but not to offend. Rather, the film shows, in silent scene after scene (save for the sounds of mechanized production), what the food INDUSTRY looks like in its automated, commercial, modern incarnation. The word "system" barely does justice to how the organized, detail-oriented Continental conglomerates (the native stock that gives us BMW's and Mercedes, Swiss watches, and high-speed trains that run on time) have made food a commodity that is produced like a, well, like a Swiss watch.

One marvels at the organization until, as the movie progresses, the lack of "life" begins to be worrisome. There are no farmers seen in the movie, only silent, detached workers who monitor systems with a dispassion that becomes a bit depressing as scenes switch from setting to setting.

Europe has a marvelous history and tradition—especially France—of hands-on farming as American apostles like Eliot Coleman have studied and commended, but there was none of that portrayed in this film. Yes, the film is purposefully one-sided—not to deceive, but simply to portray that side of how food for the masses is produced in the modern world.

The film is 90 minutes long. I highly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue and watching it as a means of broadening your perspective on "food" in the modern world. (The official web site for Our Daily Bread is here, along with trailers.)

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