Tag Archives: meat processing

Mini-Game Explores Meat Production from New Point of View

Alexey Botkov, a game creator who is part of the Frogshark game studio in Auckland, New Zealand, recently participated in a Ludum Dare competition (a “game jam”) in which game designers, working alone, had only 48 hours to create a video game.  The theme: “You are the monster.

Many competitors took a literal view of the theme, creating games wherein the player controls a traditional, Godzilla-like monster.  Botkov took a different tack: “I wanted the theme to carry a self-reflective quality for the player instead of a literal representation in the game.”

In That Cow Game (downloadable for free for Windows and OSX here), the player plays a pixelated cow, who wanders among the whirring, clanking machines of an equally pixelated slaughterhouse.  The difference here is that the cow is the factory foreman, and the infinite line of processed carcasses are all human.

Created in just 48 hours, the game is, by necessity, minimalist: the graphics are simple and blocky, and there isn’t any actual goal.  This arguably makes the game experience even more haunting and thought-provoking.  A reviewer from Popular Science noted, “As the cow (the main character), you’re really only tasked with walking back and forth along the assembly line for as long as it takes you to realize there’s nothing you can do to affect the process. Whether that moment was intentional or not, it left an unsettling feeling hanging in the air. I kept wondering: Was there something I can do? Am I missing something to stop this?”

Image source: nomand

Image source: nomand

The player’s only source of interaction with unfolding events is an ability to headbutt the human corpses as they roll by.  The carcasses are the only “squishy” looking items in the game, created with a deliberate, visually unique feel to separate them from the rest of the space.  They feel out of place in the huge, industrial factory.  “If I was to add anything it would be sound and a variety of voices coming from the humans as you bump into them,” Botkov says.

The game has only minimal, pixelated gore, and it won’t necessarily turn you vegan — Botkov himself is an omnivore — but it invites thought about the nature of our food production processes.

“I eat meat and I am a monster, really,” he says. “More so because I’m aware of the issues, yet I’m still complicit. I guess [with the game] I’m questioning my own relationship with the whole thing and trying to figure out what my values are.”

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Charlie and the OMG Factory

I once heard it said that you would never eat a hot dog if you knew how it was made.

From Perry Bible Fellowship

From Perry Bible Fellowship

It’s interesting to me how little we talk about meat production.  You can’t find a lot of detail, honestly — and what detail you do find is not generally produced by “real” journalists, but by animal rights organizations, so there’s this tendency to dismiss it.  Mainstream journalism does not show you the killing floor.  We show World War II and the evening news but we just don’t mention to each other how sausage is made.

Isn’t this the kind of thing you’d want to know?  Don’t we want our kids to be informed consumers?  I ate hot dogs for *ahem* years before I found out — not what they’re made of, but how they kill the animals that go into them — I’m not sure at what age it would have been appropriate to explain the concept to me, but I strongly suspect I would have stopped eating hot dogs a lot earlier if someone had shown me what was going on.  All I saw growing up were watered-down, polite news stories, which had very little detail.  I got the vague feeling I wouldn’t like what I saw in there, but I never had the chance to see it, and I didn’t look into it in detail.  I grew up pre-internet — there wasn’t a lot of media available on the topic at the time.

It might also be argued that, when my grandparents bought sausage, the pig involved was personally slaughtered, as humanely as possible, in a low-volume slaughterhouse, and had likely spent a reasonably happy life in a grassy field, doing nothing much.  When my parents asked my grandparents how sausage was made, they got that story.  That’s the story that got passed on to me.  Meanwhile, out of everyone’s sight, technology was changing….

Maybe there ought to be school field trips, or contests — although I’d probably pass on having to yank a soggy “Bacon Ticket” from the inside of a sausage.  Clearly this needs to be a reality TV show.

There’s a lot more to this, of course, and I’m interested in whacking around the idea that constant exposure to this kind of thing renders it “normal”, and that’s why, say, cattle ranchers don’t understand why vegetarians are so squeamish about eating meat.  Moving past that idea…if exposure to it renders it “normal” — do we then want to tell people about it?  How do we tell people about it?  If we hear about it, in graphic detail, every day, will we still be as horrified, as motivated to act?

Can’t Get Away From Factory Farming

I still don’t think of myself as truly vegetarian — just mostly vegetarian, and  I’m sure many vegetarians would consider me not entirely committed, for my viewpoint that it is possible to keep an animal kindly, and at the end of a happy and food-filled life to slaughter it humanely and eat it.  I believe this can be done with respect.  The animal benefits from health care, provisioned food/water/shelter and companionship; the human gets a wealth of supplies (leather, wool, etc) and food.  Everyone benefits.

Unfortunately, somewhere between this red-barn-and-picket-fence idyll and the high-speed modern slaughterhouse, the “mutual respect” thing turned into something where animals are not even afforded the basic respect we give to useful furniture, and I can’t buy into that system.  Thus, mostly vegetarian — enjoying meat but not the hell that animals went through in order to get it to me, I decided I would only eat meat from small, local, family farms, where compassionate farmers could spend enough time with the animals they slaughtered to ensure the process was as quick, painless and humane as possible, and the animals had as wonderful a life as it was possible to provide.  This makes me essentially vegetarian — certainly no restaurant or normal grocery store serves such meat, which must be found at specialty stores or obtained directly from the farms themselves.

I am now rethinking even this limited meat option.  It had been sitting in the back of my mind that even meat raised at the kindest of farms likely goes through USDA-“overseen” slaughterhouses, with their 3-chickens-a-second conveyor belts, and an episode of “Dirty Jobs” — in which Mike Rowe shadows Earl’s Meats, a mobile butchering operation which travels to clients’ farms, slaughters their stock, and butchers the carcass, producing wrapped meats ready for the kitchen — implied that it is actually required that this happen.  The episode pointed out to me that the meat butchered in this way was unsuitable for sale to the public because it had not been slaughtered in a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse.

This means that any meat to which I have easy, retail access, short of something I have slaughtered personally, has been processed through a USDA slaughter operation and has therefore been in the tender “care” of a high speed slaughter plant, or one of the new USDA-inspected mobile units, which can potentially process 30 head of cattle a day.  This means that it’s time to drop the “small farm” meat and become officially vegetarian, because there is currently no such thing as “humane” meat.

As a side note, here’s the Mobile Slaughter Unit Compliance Guide from the USDA.

Repost from Cracked: More Creepy Stuff from the Food Industry

I hate just reposting something without adding anything to it, but this author has said it all.

The 6 Creepiest Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You is posted on Cracked.com, a site which uses the word “boobies” a lot but still manages to produce some insightful articles.  The article covers: the unfortunate origins of honey and spices; “plumping” and other hideous things done to your chicken; the “gluing together” of meat scraps to make fake steaks (something of which I was unaware); the dyeing of meat to make it look healthier; the fact that, unless you are in Japan, you have never eaten Kobe beef; and the fact that you probably have never eaten real olive oil, either.

The article also has a twin brother by the same author, The 6 Most Horrifying Lies the Food Industry is Feeding You, covering: bread made of wood; zombie orange juice; the ammonia bath factories give meat rather than actually maintaining clean slaughterhouses; imitation fruit; the meaninglessness of phrases like “free range”; and baseless health claims on labels.

I like pointing people to these articles as a “baby step” toward larger issues.  They don’t screamingly push an agenda; they’re reasonably funny; they’re very well written and back themselves up with decent references; and they don’t so much say “for the love of god, examine what you are eating” as provide a very real and immediate reason to do so.

Art: Humans as Meat

Today I encountered for the first time the work of artist Cang Xin.  According to his biography on the Saatchi Gallery, Xin “approaches his work as a means to promote harmonious communication with nature. His works have included bathing with lizards, adorning the clothing of strangers, and prostrating himself on icy glaciers: each act representing a ritual of becoming the other.”

Shamanism series, variation one, by Cang Xin, detail

On the topic of becoming the other I found interesting a small pencil triptych of his entitled the Shamanism Series.  The three images each feature dangling animal carcasses above lovingly rendered, disembodied, animal heads; the carcasses are interspersed with hanging, headless, male human torsos, strung up by one leg as if presented, along with the carcasses of the animals, for sale and consumption.  As you move through the triptych the carcasses do not significantly change in detail, but the heads do.  In the first image the heads are all animal (although there is one human foot present); in the second, there are two adult male heads with eyes closed; and in the third, three infantile human heads stare wide-eyed directly at the viewer.  Over the course of the viewing one is more and more directly confronted with the idea of humans as carcasses, humans as meat, humans as nothing more (or less) than the animals pictured around them.

What interests me most about this series of images is that, in endeavoring to transmit to the viewer the idea of humans as meat, the artist cannot bring himself to actually picture the humans as meat.  The animal carcasses are skinned, gutted, dismembered; the humans are missing only their heads, and occasionally their off legs.  They have not had their internal organs or skin removed; they have not had their hands and feet cut off; they are certainly not shredded like some of the animal parts.  They are not strung up by a hook under the Achilles tendon as are real meat animal carcasses, but instead suspended via ropes around the ankle.  The animals are as meat as it is possible to get; the humans are still very human-shaped.

I’m probably missing some deep symbolism here, and perhaps the art is about something entirely other (try as I might, I cannot find an artist commentary for the images).  Maybe it was just very, very difficult to find artist’s models for gutted human torsos (and that is a good thing).  Maybe properly dressed human carcasses did not look human enough to be identifiable, and did not completely make the artist’s point.  However, it really does interest me that in a series of images seemingly devoted to humans becoming the other, becoming the meat animals we consume, the artist could not quite bring himself to completely depict humans as meat.

I’m Not The Only One Seeing It….

The 6 Most Horrifying Lies The Food Industry is Feeding You, courtesy of Cracked.com.

And there’s “ammonia-infused hamburger”, right there — a direct result of the meat industry soaking your meat with chemicals rather than slow down the lines so it doesn’t get contaminated in the first place.  Below that we have “free range” chickens raised in giant sheds…which is technically “free range” compared to the industry-standard “five birds to a cage” plan, but is still nothing like the wide open fields you’re thinking about when you see the words “free range”.

Just another note to myself, I’m not the only one seeing this thing….

Pig or Puppy, the System Still Sucks

I was raised by wolves, or at least by a pack of consummate carnivores.  I find that not a lot of my friends want to talk to me about animal welfare because they think that, by objecting to how we treat our meat and research animals, I’ve become a brainwashed, tree-hugging hippie who’s trying to convert them to veganism.  They like eating their meat, and they get grumpy when they think someone is trying to take it away.

All right.  We all love bacon.  Pigs provide bacon.  You gotta kill pigs to get bacon.  Fine.

Now imagine that there are two ways to get bacon out of a pig (or a puppy).

The first way is an old, slow, traditional way: you raise the pig in a nice big space, let it exercise the muscles you’re going to eat, feed and water it properly, give it love, health care, and shelter, and kill it as humanely as possible.  You clean the carcass carefully, use as much of it as you can, and only keep and slaughter as many pigs as you can kindly handle.  Because you have a lot of time to work with individual animals and to make sure your facilities are clean, this produces clean, fresh bacon — and a lot more of it, off fatter, healthier pigs (or puppies).

The second way is the new, fast, modern way: you raise hundreds of thousands of pigs in small metal boxes in the dark.  You grow them so big, so fast, their legs break.  You fill them to the eyes with antibiotics so they don’t get sick.  You can’t process all the pigs yourself, so you hire (and abuse) minimum-wage workers to do the slaughtering in a partially automated process.  Processing 3,000 pigs an hour (one every two seconds), not all the pigs die before being dismembered.  Something like 20-30% are “legged”, gutted, and dissected alive.  Everything moves so fast there’s no time to clean properly, and carcasses (and everything else) are covered in feces, blood, and other materials.  There’s no time to inspect carcasses properly, either, and diseased animals are packaged up for sale.  When disease is inevitably discovered in your product, instead of slowing down the line, you wash the meat down in chlorine before you package it.

Either way, you end up eating bacon.  But the first way, you’re getting good meat, and the second way, you’re getting meat full of chemical washes, pus, E. coli, and sawdust.

Just for this moment, we’re gonna skip all the animal welfare issues, the worker welfare issues, the adorable little kids dying of E. coli poisoning, and the really cute part where the plants are run and “overseen” by the rich, fat-cat assholes in Washington that you hate, who are even now passing laws to make it easier for them to churn out tainted, sawdust-flavored crap and sell it everywhere.  Boiled down to the basic facts: the current system of food production, which supplies most grocery stores and restaurants, turns out horrible, diseased, scary meat which is doused in chemicals and potentially dangerous for you.

Your status as a carnivore is not in question.  The question is, which pig (or puppy) would you rather eat?

This.

Slaughterhouse by Gail EisnitzWhen I first started working in the laboratory animal industry, and got my first taste of the Machine, my immediate reaction was that I was hallucinating.  I could not possibly be seeing what I was seeing, I reasoned, and I immediately went researching.  Surely there was an explanation for the things I saw happening.  Surely I was wrong!

It disturbed me beyond measure to discover that not only was I not wrong, but that I was only getting a miniscule taste of what was really happening.  The more research I did, the more horrified I became, until I eventually had to put things down and walk away.  Every time I tried to write something about a I would do research on a and then learn about x, y, and z as well.  Then I would have to research them, and….

These days I’m a little calmer, and I can pick up books and do research again.  My most recent acquisition, Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz, is the closest thing I have so far seen to what happened to my brain when I saw the laboratory animal industry for the first time.  Due to the “shock value” cover and title, I’d been avoiding it, but it turns out to be a well-written, rational, well-researched volume which makes its statement simply and reasonably (well, as reasonably as it’s possible to be in this case).  It follows Gail, a journalist for an animal welfare group, from the moment a USDA inspector writes her saying “Something’s wrong here” to her struggle to get someone, anyone, to break the story, and through it you see, through her eyes, her unbelievable, terrible discoveries.  Every piece of awful information leads to two more pieces of awful information, and the higher she climbs in the bureaucracy, looking for the source of it all, the more distressing it becomes as she realizes that the people in charge know, and they don’t care.

This is a book you will read with your mouth open, drop at the end, and say, “No.”  No, this isn’t true.  This does not happen.  She’s a journalist; she’s being sensational.  She’s biased.  She’s just selling a story.  Speaking as someone who’s seen another facet of the Machine at work — the laboratory side — Eisnitz is not lying.  The things she is describing are real.  They are happening right now.

It’s such a relief, and it’s so scary, to know that someone else sees it too.  Through my research, I’ve actually amassed quite a collection of books over the past few years, and most of the books actually corroborate to varying degrees what I personally saw, but Slaughterhouse is the first to describe the entire eye-opening journey of discovery.

I strongly recommend it, although I would suggest not reading it while eating a hamburger.