…and forgive us our sins?

Last week I finally watched Our Daily Bread, a documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter about industrialized food production in Europe. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly (and so did the New York Times, LA Times, and a host of other reviewers!) There are a plethora of movies and videos produced on this subject by folks with a very clear agenda – PETA, the Humane Society, etc. – but as effective as those are in showing the revolting side of industrial-sized agriculture (and making many converts to vegetarianism/veganism along the way!), they come across as shrill, even desperate in comparison to this fine film.


The movie brought to mind Jesus Camp a documentary that I came in contact with through my job with Diane Winston, the USC Annenberg Knight Chair in Media and Religion. Most of the audience that watches Jesus Camp most likely falls at one end of the spectrum or the other: a person can either be of the born-again tradition or be a critic of it. And what the film can do is feed the point of view that many audience members came in with: the makers shared their film with those who appeared in it before taking it public, and the children and parents basically said, “YES! This is who we are!” and were happy to have their story told in this way. Someone coming from the opposite direction could watch the film and scream, “OMG!!! Look what they’re doing to these children! This is child abuse! This is brainwashing! This needs to be stopped!”

Likewise, the viewers of Our Daily Bread probably mostly come from two opposite sides: the confirmed vegan would watch this film as further proof that his/her choice of diet is the only morally acceptable one. But someone who eats unthinkingly from the industrial food chain could just as easily enjoy the film for its portrayal of what man has created to feed the world –  the machinery that runs nonstop to ensure that we are fed. Richard Pena, chairman of the New York Film Festival selection committee even commented admiringly that “ ‘Our Daily Bread’ is a documentary that could probably find a place in a course on science fiction films.”

Not being an expert on film, I have to wonder – how is it possible to make films like these? Did the filmmakers create a masterpiece by pleasing both sides, or did they just let us go on believing what we already knew to be true?

And what about those who go to see these films without coming down hard on either side of the questions asked? Or those who go without having thought much about those questions? I can’t really judge, since I stand pretty firmly on the side (but not at the extreme) of opting out of the industrial food chain as much as possible. I found Our Daily Bread intriguing and powerful in its total lack of narrative voice-over and interviews. I have seen the PETA-style horror flicks of animal slaughter, so the scenes portraying pigs and cattle being slaughtered and eviscerated were not new to me. Oddy, what scared me most was the scene of 2 workers suiting up to spray a crop in a greenhouse – I couldn’t help but think, “If you are covering yourself head to toe with this protective gear before spraying, why would I want to put that produce in my mouth?!?”

Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, I highly recommend Our Daily Bread – it’s available on dvd – and then visit the film’s website to read the interviews with the director and editor. My kids watched the film with me (the nine-year-old with much more concentration than the five-year-old of course, although he was fascinated by the pig slaughter scene!), and my daughter did NOT become a vegetarian, although she now questions more intelligently where the food I serve her comes from. Food for thought, indeed.

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