Wednesday, March 21, 2007

We Feed The World

"According to the Food & Agriculture Organisation, we currently produce enough food to feed 12 billion people. So every child who dies of hunger today has been murdered." Jean Ziegler's statement is at the heart of We Feed The World, Erwin Wagenhofer's agro-industry documentary. Through a series of examples, the film points out some of the absurdities, inequalities, biases and injustices of the global food industry.

Wagenhofer does away with any lingering Malthusianism: in Vienna, we see enough bread being thrown away to feed Graz, Austria's second city, while in Brazil, a massive agricultural producer and exporter, up to 25% of the population suffers from endemic undernourishment.

There are ecological issues, when vast tracts of the Amazon are razed to grow soja to be exported and fed to European farm animals, social issues, as in the (probably illegal) African migrant workers who live in squalor while tending to the vast greenhouses of Almería, Spain, economic issues, such as the well-known example of subsidised European produce being sold in Dakar, Senegal at half the local prices, quality issues in the limp, damaged fish resulting from industrial deep-sea fishing. There are a few others, and there could be many more.

WFTW culminates with an interview with the Nestlé CEO, who is allowed to simply state his company's outlook. It's edifying to learn that, for him, considering access to water a fundamental human right rather than just another food commodity is an "extremist position."

I think the film could have been just a little punchier, but the section focusing on a chicken farm makes for an arresting series of images. We see the chicken life-cycle from conception, incubation, hatching, dispatching (imagine Modern Times but with thousands of chicks instead of one Charlie Chaplin), raising and slaughter. The slaughter machine is both Rube Goldberg-esque and ruthlessly efficient. It is actually made somewhat more sinister by the in-built "humane" component. It's far removed from the travails of human slaughter by an avant-classical musician. There's nothing quite "wrong" with the whole process, but it does illustrate how disconnected we are from agricultural processes and how they themselves are increasingly divorced from nature.