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By Rady Ananda

Wanna avoid talking heads telling you about the ills of factory farming? Tired of the sweetness of organic growers and their lifestyle? Then watch Our Daily Bread, which takes a bizarre, potent, and artistically silent view of how the vast bulk of our food is produced.  

Filmed and produced by Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Edited by Wolfgang Widerhofer
Co-produced by ZDF/3sat
Developed with the support of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union
Distributed by Icarus Films
Website: http://www.ourdailybread.at/
DVD available here.
93 mins

Winner of several awards, Our Daily Bread opens onto a worker cleaning the floor of a hog hanging room. Then it moves to macabre, then to fascinating. It is always educational. The cinematography is clean and crisp, careful to spend time on each facet of factory food production. Uncluttered by music or dialogue, the viewer is invited to appreciate or abhor the efficiency of assembly line production, to contemplate the monotony for workers, or to question the wisdom of a centralized food system.

Years ahead of today’s crop of factory food films, Geyrhalter exposes this “closed system that people have extremely vague ideas about.” During filmmaking, he discovered that the interviews with workers “tended to disturb and interrupt the perception of the film.” So, the team decided on the more radical form of no dialogue. “Viewers should just plunge into this world and form their own opinions.”

Geyrhalter takes a deep, impassive look inside meat processing plants, a factory granary, and a futuristic chicken hatch. He studies the machinery that cuts, sucks, pulls and separates each animal or plant.

Fritz Lang metropolis-1 (400 x 304)Daily Bread is a modern-day Metropolis – but instead of peopled cities in controlled assembly, we look at edible flora and fauna. Like a science lab, we see acres of controlled rooms that house tens of thousands of animals or plants. Continually we watch the floors and conveyor belts being sprayed clean.

In an interview with Sylvia Burner, Geyrhalter cautions us, “This economic, ‘soulless’ efficiency is in a reciprocal relationship with our society’s lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Buy organic products! Eat less meat!’” But, he reminds us, “We all enjoy the fruits of automation, industrialization and globalization every day.”

In a clean, steel encased, temperature controlled hothouse, workers don protective gear before applying chemicals. So do the filmmakers:

filmmakers in chemsuits

We drive with the tractors as they chemically spray, fertilize and irrigate the crops. After that we visit tiered rows of chickens, tens of thousands of them kept neatly caged while workers pick up live eggs or the rare dead hen.

stealing sperm

We see bulls tricked into mounting cows, so a worker can grab his penis and catch the sperm.  Next we move to the lab, where the sperm is analyzed.

With little blood and gore, we watch how an assembly line kills then cuts up pigs. The entire process is morbidly fascinating. Along this assembly line, we watch the innards being separated.  The killing floor is bloody but the film doesn’t focus on that.

We watch how workers hand harvest lettuce, pulling off the outermost leaves, then wrapping the heads in plastic. We are taken outside and realize this is a large truck in a field. The workers have to knee their way forward as the truck moves across the field.

In the chicken hatch, we study a machine that vacuums up live chickens, then spits them into drawers that workers shut as soon as they’re full. We visit the killing floor after they’ve been hung by their feet.

Onto the cow killing floor… Stunned electrically, the cow does not seem to die.  Regardless, a worker then attaches its hind leg to a conveyor belt that lifts and moves it along for a more thorough killing. We watch as one cow struggles frantically before being gun-stunned. On the assembly line, a boy cuts open the cow and gallons of blood pore out. Lifts take workers up and down the vertically hung beast, as they remove its skin, and saw it in half.

cow killing machine

Throughout each production scene, the filmmaker shows where the workers eat – most inside a cafeteria, others in the field. Little is made of the connection between what they do for a living and what they eat.

Ever wonder how olives are harvested on a monoculture field? Without a doubt, the film is entirely educational – a must see for anyone who acquires their meat in a grocery store.

Whatever one thinks of factory food production, there can be no doubt that, as a system of innovative machinery, its efficiency at killing, skinning, gutting and slicing is impressive. Questions arise about the disimpassioned workers and disimpassioned consumers: what effect on us from a job with a single morbid task, all day long, just to earn or eat our daily bread?

Our Daily Bread can be purchased and is available to rent at Netflix, GreenCine and many local independent video stores.


Fresh: How We’re Supposed to Eat
FOOD, Inc. Exposes Horrors of a Centralized Food System
Home: A beautiful and urgent case for cooperativism