Food processing came up in my basic Microeconomics course, of all places. We were assigned to read an article called “To Make a Tender Chicken” by Barbara Goldoftas from 1989. While we were supposed to be learning about how changes in labor, etc. can affect costs, I was focused on other aspects, such as the story of Mary Smith. After working in a chicken processing plant for only seven months, the repetitive nature of her job had debilitated her hands so much that she now has difficulty holding items due to a newly developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, the article discusses bullying tactics the plant bosses used to keep workers from seeking adequate medical treatment (such as firing those that do).
So how is it looking today?
Thinking back to when I first watched Food, Inc., I remember being horrified that meat companies would specifically advertise to immigrant workers. I wasn’t horrified about the workers being immigrants, but rather that when immigration enforcement came through the facility, arresting and deporting the workers, the company simply restocked on new immigrant workers without a care in the world.
Even the United States Department of Labor can’t make working at a slaughterhouse sound appealing:
Butchers and meat cutters, poultry and fish cutters and trimmers, and slaughterers and meatpackers often work in cold, damp rooms where meat is kept to prevent spoiling. In addition, long periods of standing and repetitious physical tasks make the work tiring. Working with sharp knives on slippery floors makes butchers and meat cutters more susceptible to injury than almost all other workers in the economy; however, injury rates for the animal slaughtering and processing industry have been declining. Injuries include cuts and occasional amputations, which occur when knives, cleavers, or power tools are used improperly. Also, repetitive slicing and lifting often lead to cumulative trauma injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back strains.
– “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition”
Supporting human rights is one reason why someone might go vegetarian, and right now I’m glad that I am one. I know that there is more I can do – buying local, for example, or researching the companies I buy from. I’m making small steps, but I know I will get to a more sustainable lifestyle one day.
To read more about slaughterhouse workers:
An article from the Food Empowerment Project