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We feed the World

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So what do you know about Austria? Sure there’s Mozart. This year there’s also Freud and these very days there’s also Gödel… all of whom have some anniversary this year. But is Austria known for films? Not that I can remember.

Thus I was surprised to learn about We feed the world [IMDB], an Austrian documentary about the wonders of industrialised food production that started running in cinemas around here last week. I assume that after the success of the Michael Moore films or Super Size Me, going for another film criticising how food is ‘made’ these days was an obvious idea. Yet, our Austrian friends managed to find their unique way of dealing with the topic.

Dumping old bread in Vienna

Unlike the American films on similar topics which go for the obviously shocking points and image, this documentary mostly documents and leaves the – obvious – conclusions to the viewer. There a different episodes in the film, each of which deals with a different situation and most of which seems to have some Austrian involved in it (and amusingly all of them were subtitled in ‘proper’ German even when the Austrians were speaking – well – German). We learn a bit about each of those scenarios and then get to dive in it to see some more details. In between there are short statements by Jean Ziegler, the United Nation’s ‘special rapporteur’ on the Right to Food.

View of the tomato plantations around almeria on Google Earth Facts we learn about are the vast amount of perfectly good bread that is thrown away on a daily basis in Austria, about the region around Almeria in Spain where many European tomatoes are produced… in hothouses (naturally with each tomato plant having its exclusive water and hormone pipe while the African workers there don’t have running water), about non-industrial fishing in France which is to be superseded by its industrial sibling soon, about huge areas of rain forest (apparently worth one cent per square metre) being destroyed to grow soy there which is in turn used to feed European cattle, about agriculture in eastern Europe which is starting to be all shiny, efficient, dependent on seed companies, and tasteless just as agriculture in western Europe is already (choice quote: we fucked up the west and now […] we’ll fuck all the other countries), about how chicken are made… we can follow the eggs from being laid to the little (and cute!) yellow chicks hatching to them growing up and being brought to slaughter in the dark (apparently the dark makes it ‘stress free’) before being put into a big machine to be gutted – or should I say disassembled –, and about fun huge companies like Nestlé saying that drinking water should have a ‘value’ and be a tradable commodity just like everything else.

Shot from the film, scene on Industrial chicken 'processing'

While all these points sound pretty obvious and condemning, the film manages to stay away from hysteria or being mean. We are just shown what’s going on. Other than saying that it’s wrong that many people suffer from hunger or even day of starvation each day while huge amounts of food are wasted elsewhere, there is no judgement in the film. It’s more about pointing out how absurd everything is. How ‘the market’ prefers shiny but tasteless food, how the great ‘efficiency’ of industrial food production kills the taste and texture. And how most of us in the urban West don’t even have an idea about how fruit, vegetables or animals taste when risen naturally at this time (indeed, I was shocked by the aubergines in the film: the very thought of an aubergine being a bit wrinkly, non shiny and having a discernible taste of its own, seems absurd when having in mind the aubergines I’ve eaten so far).

It’s a film that’s worth seeing. Possibly opening your eyes in ways you didn’t want them to be opened. Oh, and we’re doomed.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

May 2, 2006, 0:04

Tagged as country:at, erwin wagenhofer, film, we feed the world.

Comments

Comment by Dave2: User icon

I didn’t have the guts to watch any of the animal slaughter footage until I stopped eating meat. After that, I was in a state of perpetual shock as I watched a video given to me by a friend. Some of it is quite horrifying… if only from the standpoint that the animals are not always given the courtesy of a pain-free death.

I choose not to eat meat, and that’s a personal decision. If other people want to eat animals, then I’m fine with it and respect their choice. HOWEVER, I think that a merciful slaughter that is free from stress or pain is the least that can be done for a poor animal that is giving up its life so people can eat.

May 2, 2006, 1:45

Comment by ssp: User icon

As a meat-eater I can understand your point. I just want to make clear that it isn’t the point of the film. It sounded like they really make an effort for the animals to die stress free (if only for the meat getting worse by the animals suffering in the process).

What I found more disturbing was how industrial the whole process looks with the big numbers and all the machines that are involved.

May 2, 2006, 8:11

Comment by J. Scott Johnson of Ookles: User icon

I’d actually argue strongly the case that the advent of childhood ailments that have increased so dramatically since say 1970ish is directly tied to problems in our food supply. My wife and I have dramatically changed our eating habits this year towards more “organic” and less “synthetic” and we both feel dramatically better.

The basic inputs to a child are: * food * air * water * media * family life * drugs

Water quality is largely government regulated — at least here in the states — so I don’t think that’s an issue.

Air quality? Sheesh. You can’t affect that anyway. I mean its the air.

Media? Well its disturbing but we’re seeing too many diagnoses of early age ailments before enough media can be (imho) consumed to affect them.

Family life? Perhaps but the odds (again imho) on family life leading directly to a medical condition are rare.

Drugs are a possibility but that’s also fairly well regulated.

The food supply, however, has gone thru massive changes with only minimal government oversight and I really do think that we’re seeing the effect of combinatorial results leading to illness. I.e. BGH (bovine growth hormone) might actually be fine by itself but who knows what it does when mixed with hamburger helper?

Just my .02

May 5, 2006, 14:17

Comment by Ioana: User icon

I’d really like to see this documentary but I don’t have English subtitles and it’s very difficult to understand… Can anybody help me? tzupuras@yahoo.com

January 6, 2007, 15:25

Comment by ssp: User icon

No idea where you can get those subtitles, Ioana. They seem to have made some for screening the film in cinemas outside Germany, but I can’t even tell whether they’re included on the DVD by looking at sites like amazon.

Any further hints are appreciated!

January 8, 2007, 13:36

Comment by Bernd: User icon

Hi,

the DVD has got subtitles in German, English and French,if I recall properly. best, Bernd

February 19, 2007, 8:53

Comment by Pierre: User icon

Haven’t seen the movie yet but am looking forward to.

Just wanted to thank J. Scott Johnson of Ookles for earlier comments. Please read these again, right on the button. I would even go to say that the destabilization in our food supply is a source of many social ills.

We seem to all feel powerless but I think what can change things and each of us have power to control is:

1) Buy food grown and raised locally. Whether organic or not, this way you have better oversight on its process and reduce transport. Supporting your local farmers also means less tax dollars spent supporting them. 2) Buy organic. And I only placed this second to local as there isn’t much sense sometime to buy organic from 3000 miles away. 3) Grow you own veg if you can.

The consumer has an enormous power. By supporting your local farmers before they are all gone, we can all reverse this process and resolve a lot of problems.

Pierre

April 26, 2007, 7:45

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