The Angry Environmental Studies Major

Although I’ve only been back in Gettysburg for 4 days, I feel like I’ve learned an incredible amount already.  On our first day (6/8), we took a tour around Gettysburg to learn about where some of the migrant communities work and reside.  While I enjoyed all of our stops on the tour, our visit to a turkey processing plant sparked the majority of my interest. As we walked from our van towards the farm, one of the first things I noticed were the number of massive trucks filled with hundreds of turkeys enclosed in tightly packed spaces. As soon as I saw these trucks, I immediately doubted the farming practices of those bringing in turkeys, and their “organic” status immediately became less credible. While inside the processing plant, we were given a tour of where the employees work–a large portion of the employees were migrants. I immediately noticed the working conditions of the processing plant. The work spaces were extremely noisy due to the loud machines, and workers were required to wear earphones at almost all times. The workers were always working very close together, and seem to have redundant jobs that they spend hours completing in one place. There are butchered turkeys hanging all around the work rooms, and turkey “guts” in multiple places on the floor.  It was very easy to be sprayed with water while walking practically anywhere around the facility.  I was not happy to see that migrant workers were working in harsh, confined conditions only to receive minimum wage.  It’s upsetting that workers of other companies are completing tasks in much more favorable conditions, while making generally the same amount as workers of the turkey plant.  For example, workers of Rice Fruit Company–an apple distributing company we visited–work in a spacious facility, and workers are spread out from one another.  Machines are not dangerously loud, and workers are not required to protect themselves from the noise.    

I have learned about the corruption of the food industry in a number of my classes. However, seeing part of the meat industry first-hand was more impactful and eye-opening than any of these discussions I have had in my classes. Turkeys are confined in very small spaces, and are “shocked” before they are decapitated.  I asked one of the company high-ups what makes their farm “organic.” She informed me that turkeys are not given antibiotics, and are allowed to graze “freely” for 51% of their lifetime.  As I’ve learned through my studies, grazing “freely” could mean that animals are given just a few feet to graze. In many cases, a small side door may be opened for animals to graze in very small areas. Thus, organic conditions are more easily met than most people are likely aware of. 

Wednesday night, I realized I had turkey in the refrigerator that I did not want to go to waste. I opened the wrapped turkey to place it on bread, and I felt nauseous. I will never look at turkey the same way.

Alyssa Weker, ’17