I went out the other night (just me, out, hanging by myself) to see the German made film, Our Daily Bread as part of Doc Week here in Adelaide. Put simply, it is a documentary about where our food comes from, how it is processed and the efficiency with which it is processed.
I’ll be honest, I felt quite arty-farty telling people “Oh Wednesday, no can’t do Wednesday I’m going to see a documentary about how food is processed. Yes, yes darling, part of Doc Week, you know, the celebration of documentary film, yes that’s the one…”
I’d actually invited a couple of friends to come along but plans changed and it ended up being just me. No biggie there, I quite enjoy hangin’ by myself sometimes, just me and…..me.
Anyway, it wasn’t too far into the film before it occurred to me that ‘Our Daily Bread’ contained no speaking whatsoever, just a procession of short scenes filled only with the sights and sounds of food being processed.
‘God, this IS arty-farty’ I thought as I took a sip of my wine. I was really starting to enjoy myself, feeling quite the movie critic as I tsk’d the pesticides being sprayed over some sunflowers, turning to the small number of people in the cinema to raise my eyebrows.
The scene soon changed to some chicks being hatched.
‘Ooh lovely, so cute. Whoa Nellie, what’s happening here? Are those cute little chicks being thrown into a chute and blown out the other end? Phew, looks like they survived, maybe they even quite enjoyed it. Hang on, I know they’re not enjoying that!’
I watched in stunned silence as women picked handfuls of baby chicks off a conveyor belt and threw any that weren’t up to scratch into a bin. It wasn’t just the dead ones they were looking for either. Any imperfections meant a one-way ticket to the bottom of the bin while their apparently flawless cousins ended up in a box on the way to their next home.
As we find out later in the film, these boxed chicks never actually see the light of day. Once big enough, they’ll see out the rest of their life in a cramped cage with about four other chooks in a shed of 1000’s sharing the same miserable fate.
Personally I think I would rather have gone in the bin.
‘That’s pretty confronting’ I thought uneasily, taking a larger sip (lets call it a gulp) of my wine, however I felt I had a duty to watch. ‘You eat chicken Bernie, don’t be gutless, see where your food comes from’.
At some point we came to a scene involving pigs. It had never occurred to me before but pigs have such a “Hey, I’m bang up for whatever’s happening,” kind of face. Every scene involving pigs had them thoroughly enjoying themselves, oblivious to whatever was about to happen next. Unfortunately by this stage of the movie I knew exactly what was about to happen next and the wine was being gulped down so fast it was nearly at an end. There was only one thought going through my mind as I watched these pigs meet their maker in a fairly unpleasant way…
‘Thank f$%k no one else came to see this with me!’
This documentary was not one to see with a couple of gal pals, a follow up dinner and a few wines. This film was intense. By time we reached the climactic scenes detailing how cows are ‘processed’, I was no longer looking at my fellow cinema-goers with raised eyebrows nor was I concerned about fulfilling my duty by watching where meat comes from – I was the crazy lady down the front covering her eyes whispering, “Oh f$%k, oh f$%kin hell!”
I left feeling exhausted and also a little bit stupid.
I mean, I know where meat comes from. I grew up on a farm for goodness sake. But to actually see how our food gets from the paddock, or more often than not the factory, to the plate was an eye opener for me. This was not how I remembered it as a kid, going out with my Dad to choose a sheep to kill quickly and with a great deal more respect for the animal than what was being portrayed in this film, only the chance of a ride in the wheelbarrow and fresh chops for dinner at the forefront of my mind.
This documentary was about food production on a grand scale and something that we all unknowingly have a hand in. I naively kept holding onto the thought – ‘This doesn’t happen in Australia, we don’t do that in Australia’ – only to be confronted the very next day with the Make It Possible campaign confirming that yes, we do kill animals just like that in Australia. Of course we do, how else do we get enough meat to fill our supermarkets, to take home, to cook and leave half uneaten when we decide our eyes are bigger than our bellies?
The most interesting thing about this film was how it portrayed the people who worked in the processing factories – casually eating their lunch or taking a smoko break – perhaps to show these people were not monsters, just desensitized to the reality of what they were doing like I was in my wheelbarrow-riding hay-day. What they were doing was dirty, back-breaking work and someone had to do it.
But does someone have to do it?
What this documentary also shows us is how technology is used to maximize efficiency, consumer safety and profit in food production. Efficient, safe and profitable – we undoubtedly have this covered – but in relation to our meat-eating, are we being humane? And would we want all of this food if we knew how it was being acquired?
I started to worry too. If this is how we do things now, what’s it going to be like in ten, twenty, fifty years from now when technology is even more advanced and food can be processed even more efficiently? Perhaps humans will be removed from the food processing chain altogether?
I’m not so naive as to think that global food production should be shut down instantly, we all become responsible for our own fruit and veggie plots, eat only what we need and what we have raised ourselves. Although that would be kinda cool…
But we, as consumers, are the ones who have driven this level of mass food production through our demand. By the same token, we are the ones that can now step back and say, “Well, hang on a minute, this is not quite what I signed up for.”
The only way I know how to do this is by making clear, well thought out decisions with my supermarket trolley, by shopping locally, growing whatever food I can in my own backyard, wasting less food and reducing my meat intake.
We may not see the changes in our lifetime but we can take giant steps to change it for the future.
What about you? What food production practices concern you?