Is It Tasteless to Call This Food for Thought?

The first day of a fellowship exploring food security and migrant rights required a sort of baptism by fire, I suppose, as what better way to shock a group of youths – and boy are we relative youths, darling little 20-somethings – than taking them to a poultry slaughter and processing factory at 8am. Consider it a coitus-interruptus to all our turkey club sandwich loving days. Or so we joked, though half of us ate poultry that same week, the dead-scream faces of plucked, gutted turkeys swinging by on FDA approved guillotines dancing merrily in our minds.

Did anyone else try to be vegan in middle school after watching videos of slaughterhouses? I barely batted an eye that morning at the turkeys. Sorry, Big Bird. As righteous as condemning the poultry factory may be, it’s impossible to wish it away without horrible repercussions. Our overburdened earth, carrying 7 billion some odd people, stamped down by 14 billion some odd feet, demands a quick turnover for food to mouth because we are a hungry people. I think that factory is as good as it gets for mainline efficient production. Call it a necessary evil, call it progress.

I, half morbid, half artist, wanted to take pictures; request denied. So I stared and stared, trying to absorb the rows of perfect powder blue suits and white capped workers, big red plastic earmuffs shushing the deafening hiss and whir of machines. Standing close, cutting, clamping, latex gloves, rubber boots, all sealed away and tightly kept, a disassembling assembling line. Let this be a gentle ode to their senses strangled by noise and sour smells and our senseless eating, saran-wrapped skinless breast meat coming from the invisible swinging cold-room doors of grocers across the land. Where does the food come from, where does it go? How my mother wishes she didn’t know.

Is it wrong to rhyme here, to have looked so hard, a brief voyeur, guilty of savage curiosity? I’m not in denial – I eat at the cost of human dignity and welfare. There is no way out of that trench, not in today’s industrial food complex. Our tour guide, a wide-eyed (less from naiveté and more from caffeine) peppy blond lead us — and I, directly behind, focused on the ruby, jelly fleck of gore on her white coat, an oil stain the colour of broth sunk around it. There’s something poteic there in a visual metaphor. Stains around a source, lasting long after a washing.

A significant proportion of workers at this factory are Latin American migrant workers, primarily from Mexico, living in the Adams Country community. They are known, relegated to quarters away from the center of Gettysburg by housing prices, slipped into stations of invisibility. Spread across American media, “migrant” drops as only a buzzword, equipped with backhanded words and agendas. We talk – and then we eat. And it’s passing knowledge that most of our food is processed by migrant workers, filtered into on-the-job-training positions by companies that overlook documentation, that offer small wages for repetitious thankless work. And we, long-settled Americans, fear for the safety of our jobs, as though they aren’t protected enough by the barriers migrants of colour face when entering the country.

Migrants, documented or undocumented, aren’t taking the jobs we speak of around mouthfuls of grass-fed burgers. They are taking the invisible jobs, doing invisible work. I cannot assume their opinions on their position, only say that I would not want to do that work, cannot imagine anyone wanting to do that work. The poultry factory we visited employs a huge number of people in the county, unsavory as it is. The diet and the economy of this land cannot banish it. The dark truth is, let that work remain, if only in better conditions. As we learned, robots cannot fillet meat with a discerning knife, nor handle the delicate nature of plants for orchard work. But should robots every surpass the human eye and human hand, then all these people will be very doomed. The “unskilled” invisible worker built and maintains the larger world — what will happen if we build over them?
Beauregard Charles ’17