This essay intended to respond to Pachirat’s kill floor – “a place that is no place,” the highly manual labored and ‘automated violence’ to what seemingly indulgent food product – packaged meat, in relation to supermarkets and fast-food restaurants. Further, this essay was written and propelled by the distilled inquiries from documentaries such as Dominion (2018), Slaughterhouse – What The Meat Industry Hides (2017), Lucent (2014), A River of Waste: The Hazardous Truth About Factory Farms (2009), Supermarket Secrets (2007), Earthlings (2005), Super Size Me (2004), and Modern Meat (2002). The magnitude of (dis)embodiment and (in)visibilities among meat processing plants across time, space, and human history – which has unthinkably repeated, reinforced and magnified throughout the entire food chains, including slaughterhouses, factory farms, industrialization, the ways of transportation, distribution, transaction developed, and ultimately, killings all in all.
However, what drives the mass killing practices? What causes animal dis-ease at the expense of taking its toll on human and environmental sufferings? To what extent the role of sight is underpinning human senses, including our instinctual awareness, moralities and ethical issues? Following these questions, it leads me to ponder the nature of work, intensive labor protection and role of force in the forms of control, fabrication, standardization, surveillance, dependency, value-adding, line speeds, compartmentalization, disembodiment and death.
This essay also intended to provoke more questions with the bigger picture in sight when it comes to the complexity of power relations, the use of force, domination, scales and exploitations. If perspectives and trust are two main ingredients baked into vision and clarity, and further on re-visioning – for the wellbeing of people and environment; what would visibility mean in extreme confinement? Who is responsible for the mass practices of animal food production? What drives human consumption patterns? What are the implications of the limitless to growth? What causes the centralization of violence, and what needed to be protected? Speaking of the current situation under COVID-19, is it viable to taking the pandemics of automation and ignorance into accounts? To what degree does the volume of ignorance has damaging and violating the global food systems, which could be the opposite of embodiment? What about hope, belief and other fundamental values of living on Earth be held as responsible human beings? The disembodied perception that hidden from the physicals cannot swap by pity or judgment, which somehow only interferes with what actually matters – to understand the depth of lived experiences from the counterpart without constant projections that overruled what needed to be heard or seen.
I invite you to dive deeper into the notion of disembodiment, which I think accelerates the industrial processes or vice versa, as a factor that contributes to the accumulation of profit while minimizing costs or losses to maximizes productivity. It is also necessary to re-examine the kill floors through the lens of the entire food chains and ecosystems. Is there any linkage between the slaughterhouses, packing facilities, supermarkets, and waste management? This may manifest in conjunction with the supermarket operations when the segregation of the animal confinement well-reflected the functionality of what supermarkets might have done to the consumers – the segmentation of shelf-lifeless products, the categorical functionality of power-creation, the confined space for access, identifications, sorting, and transactions; the built-in features of the temperatures and humidity control for self-preservation purposes; the streaming music that keeps prompting the emotional bodies in favor of desires; Yet, what all these for? Can humans do better than these? What does it mean to be humanely produced and environmentally friendly? What is the bottom line of modern production and consumption in the age of manipulative economy?
Does the repeated setup inside the marketplaces, the ways of exchanging goods, and the snowballing effects of buying, selling, and trashing behaviors meet the needs of deep down – how do we want to feel safe and secure? On the one hand, the business-per-usual speed of transactions only exacerbates the pains of disembodiment – the division of power display; on the other hand, if the market forces are pulling the string of perpetuating fears, distance and concealment, how have slaughterhouses shaped the stomachs of the greed? What about value re-generation in the absence of abusing power?
Therefore, I am driven to unravel the conflicting interests across the powerhouses and disembodied conflicts by illustrating the fast-forwarding foodscapes into three cinematic viewpoints.
- Fueling the gas tank or the stomach?
In search of the taste buds, what becomes clearer to me is the memory of cultivation. I remembered two decades ago when the “golden gate” just began to march into the main street where I live in Beijing, precisely, before it becomes something that can be “main-streaming” into the lives of the landless… What always seemed to be appealing is the speed of motion. Cars replaced bikes, fast food wrappers replaced pots and pans, drive-ins replaced lazy Susan, artificial intelligence replaced paper menus, Happy Meal replaced anything that homemade delight offered, nutrition facts labels replaced homecooked recipes… Eating has become a chore to get away rather than nourish what it meant to be healthy, let alone replenish the meaning beneath the grab-and-go. If the self-contained meals of fast food represent the collapsed profitability of factory farming, what would be left behind or taken out of context in the name of satisfaction? Who benefits from the structure of self-containment and who would pay for the hidden toll of cost efficiencies?
- Ready meals, plant-based diets, or biotechnology are the new normal?
The far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 have directly resulted in furthering distance and concealment at the slaughterhouses – what would be the turning point to safeguard the mobilization of knowledge, resources, capital guided by the spirits of ethics and principles? As the outbreaks continuing widespread across the globe, meat processing and meatpacking sectors are scrambling to protect workers’ health with proper measures, let alone ensure the safety of the meat products. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, at least 51,453 food systems workers across meatpacking, food processing, and farm-based sectors have COVID infections with over 200 death cases over the course of the pandemic. Meatpacking giant companies like Tyson Foods have topped the COVID cases by 10,309 and continue exceeding the farm and food processing sectors.(FERN). COVID-19 exposed the magnitude of chronic dis-eases among meat industries that have eroded through concealment and fragmentation, which seems to unavoidably extend to plant workers’ safety and personal protection. The enclosed working conditions can only amplify contamination cases due to ventilation and the dead air of cold temperatures in slaughterhouses. Given the industrial monopoly and its results to the insecure meat facilities environment, it is important to re-direct our food systems toward true sustainability for the health of the people and the animals. What is the future of development meant in the post-COVID world, and how does it impact industrialized slaughter practices, or more so for the industrial growing capacity? If the moral principles serve the heart of what it meant for living, would there be better service ways to awaken the soul of values? Why did it get to start in the first place? Conflicts are the cure to heal conflicts on their own terms. The future of humanity is an art of making – as Pachirat mentioned, “contemporary industrialized societies and urban areas as a ready-made product suitable for inculcation in children and “barbarians,” is in fact a long historical process still in the making, the political implications of which have yet to be fully understood.” Perhaps there is a way to reveal the distance that existed in our hearts to make peace instead of suppressing, distracting, or ignoring the pathway to transformation?
- Globalization for whom, to whom and with whom?
From cattle complexes to slaughterhouses – the lives of the landless are the consequences of disembodiment. This reflects on the division of labor as well as our modern society. If much of the urban settings’ structure is based on the fabrication of utilities and capital rather than the intrinsic values of living; would there be different demands in the post-COVID society to heal the collective traumas beyond the “empty assertion of bureaucratic power?” (Pachirat 3). If violence incites from the slaughterhouses are seen as only the tip of the iceberg, what is globalization’s role in socially invisible conditions, including the food chains, fast-food franchises and supermarkets? Does the supermarket serve cosmetics demands from the consumers’ point of view? Who really gains from the added-values convenience? Will the speed of convenience be worth the costs to the ecological systems? What would be the alternatives to food and agriculture production? The shortened life span of the animals who are threatened by the untamed economic interests is by no means to be deprived of human interventions at the scales and distances that have already taken place. Looking beyond the pandemic, with increasing climate change challenging the health of the whole planet, it is more than ever alarming to take sustainable steps, start from building regenerative agri-food networks.
 Food and Environment Reporting Network. (2020, April 22) Mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the food system. https://thefern.org/2020/04/mapping-covid-19-in-meat-and-food-processing-plants/
 France 24. (2020, May 24). Covid-19: How the meat industry became a global health liability. https://www.france24.com/en/20200524-covid-19-how-the-meat-industry-became-a-global-health-liability
 Pachirat, Timothy. (2011). Every twelve seconds : Industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight (Yale agrarian studies). New Haven: Yale University Press.
My driven to discover is what kept me going – from land to folks, to back of the kitchens, amid cooklines, inside the food pantries and food banks; thinking, writing, catering, organizing, gleaning, farming, delivering, rescuing, growing, composting, cultivating, advocating, and understanding… all about simple belief in the power of food and what it holds in relation to nature, people, and the society.
I choose to write about food because of my earnest desire for the flavor of memories and its illuminating taste of hope – to understand what happened, how it came to be and what can be done differently including human, food, and human food systems in the dimensions of agriculture and globalization.
Header photo by Rose @Amherst, MA, USA
8/7/2016 1:07 PM