Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our Daily Bread Review

The documentary Our Daily Bread showcases some tough and thought-provoking issues. Rarely does one get such an intimate glimpse of the food production process. This makes such a stark presentation of the process quite shocking, and at times disturbing.

The filmmaker wants the audience to think about several things. First, he is highlighting the distance between the modern consumer and the way food is produced. Most people don’t even know how their food is made. He wants to show how mechanical, orderly, and efficient the process is. He wants us to see that there is cruelty involved in the making of animal products, and destruction in the making of plant products.

The film does have stars, depending on how you look at it. You could certainly see the workers as stars. He often focuses on them or at least includes them in most shots. Also, he shows them eating and socializing as well as doing their jobs, which makes them appear in the most contexts. On the other hand, you could see the plants and animals being made into food products as the stars, since they are what is focused on the most.

Several techniques are used to convey the film’s message. The most obvious one is the lack of any narration, and in fact the near silence of the whole thing. The only sounds are those the machines make, those the animals make, or the conversations between workers that the audience can’t hear well. The silence requires the viewer to interpret what’s being shown on their own. It also reinforces the distance that the viewer has from the methods of food production. The camera angle often shows the food product or the machinery most prominently, which puts the focus on what’s being produced, and also on the weird, almost futuristic ways it’s done. Some of the machines are really interesting and ingenious. A third technique is the juxtaposition of workers’ dirty, horrifying jobs with their break times. This affects the way the viewer sees the people in this film.

People in Our Daily Bread are workers in repetitive jobs that are often also shocking and gross to the viewer. Showing the people on their lunch breaks, on their smoke breaks, and simply interacting allows the viewer to see that although they have potentially horrifying jobs, they are used to them and it is just a job to them. Despite working in dehumanizing conditions, they are still quite human. This is also shown in the scene where the woman drops the chick and instinctively cradles it. It also shows that even when modern people are not distanced from the food production process, they must create distance for themselves in order to be alright with what they do.

The film shows that in the modern world we are much more distant from our food sources than in the ancient world. Today, getting food is automatic, guaranteed, and we don’t have to think about how it became a burger, for instance. In the ancient world, however, people were working directly off the land, and would slaughter their own animals for meat (when they ate meat). However, one can see the beginnings of specialization in the various roles for those who slaughtered animals for the sacrifice. One could see the modern way of producing food as a natural progression from ancient ways, after the implementation of our new technologies. In the ancient world, people got as much food as possible for themselves out of the land, and that is the purpose of our means of food production today.

I liked seeing many of the ways we produce food today – a lot of the technology is quite fascinating, like the machine to shake the trees to get its fruit and even the machines used in gutting the fish. As expected, the scenes involving animals were quite disturbing. I didn’t really like seeing them, but I think it should be necessary to know how we’re getting the meat products we have. I was definitely grossed out, and horrified by some of the poor conditions animals were kept in, but also definitely enlightened. This documentary is definitely worth viewing, at least as much as you can stand. Everyone today should know how their food becomes what it is, so they can have an informed opinion when it comes to issues like whether or not to eat meat.

This review was written for CLCV 412: Food and Drink in the Ancient World.

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