Our Daily Bread is a narration-free documentary film on the western industrial food system. Instead of the usual slew of facts and talking heads, there are no spoken words except what is heard incidentally in the background. Without the facts, sometimes you do wonder what you’re seeing – is that a salt mine? A quick subtitle for location might have been nice, but perhaps that’d disrupt the visual reverie.
But as it is, you are left simply to observe what is happening visually. No podium pounding or political messages, just the neutral footage of livestock being birthed, raised and slaughtered, and plants being harvested in greenhouses. It feels more sympathetic in some ways than the activist-type messages, which talk over instead of let play out. No one tells you what to think, so you decide for yourself whether what you see on the screen is the picture of a productive and efficient society, an unethical method of killing, or both.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t lean one way or the other. I’ve not sure that any film that sets out to show an hour and a half of dystopian machinery, handfuls of yellow chicks on a conveyor belt (though the sight is admittedly a bit comic), bull semen being extracted by people, pig slaughter, salmon run through machines for gutting is truly neutral.
What it does accomplish for me that PETA has never done is to give me a sense of having decided for myself that there is something deeply troubling about all of this. The message-oriented films inevitably perk up my propaganda radar and put me in the position of rejecting the whole thing if any of it seem too skewed or unreliable. If there’s even on piece of information that I don’t trust, how can you trust the rest of it unless I do hours of verification research myself? Our Daily Bread doesn’t put me in that position. What I see if what I see. Selective eye of the filmmaker or no.
When the camera settles on a person, I want to ask them, how do you feel cutting pigs’ feet every day? How do you feel about eating after seeing that? There’s no smooth voice spraying a layer of meaning over their actions, and they can exist as individuals who for one reason or another ended up in a job like this, rather than a pawn in an atrotious trend or corporate scheme.
I’d imagine that different people might draw different conclusions though. Without a moody soundtrack or a concerned narrator, these images are not as obviously negative or depressing as you’d think they’d be. I thought the images were almost hypnotic. (Not to mention the first screenshot there is the exact replica of a building I once photographed in a dream!) It’s a very visual film. How could it not be, since that’s all that you have to focus on?
The entire film is available in 10 min. increments on Youtube, so you don’t have to watch it all at once. (For those who are squeamish, the slaughter happens in the last 3 parts, part 9 especially.) But I imagine the DVD is more of a feast for the eyes.
It might be a good alternative or complement to Food Inc, about which I’ve heard mixed reviews.