Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review Essay
Metress Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review Michael Farhoud Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review Michael Farhoud In Slaughterhouse Blues, anthropologist Donald Stull and social geographer Michael Broadway explore the advent, history, and implications of modern food production - Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review Essay introduction. The industrialized system behind what we eat is one of the most controversial points of political interest in our society today.
Progressions in productive, logistical, retail, and even biological technologies have made mass produced foods more available and more affordable than ever before. This being said, the vague mass production of ever-available cheap “food” carries with it several hidden costs that the consumer is left to be blatantly unaware of. These costs, namely stress and abuse of the environment, diminished regard for animal welfare, the glorification and prevalence of diets full of sugar and fat, and an increased susceptibility to the spread and contraction of food-borne and nutritional illnesses.
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Food is a necessity, on both the level of its physical value to our bodies and the level of its monetary value as a commodity. With this in mind, the question then comes to mind as whether or not “cheaper and quicker” is really better for us if the reduction in time and effort also comes with a reduction in quality. The first chapter in the book discusses the processes behind the birth of industrialized agriculture in North America after the Second World War, with a notable focus on the changing structure and location of beef, pork, and poultry processing.
The authors point out that agriculture is currently in the middle of its third revolution. The first revolution was associated with the development of seed agriculture and animal domestication in the form of subsistence farming. The second revolution occurred in Western Europe in the late 1900’s when thriving urban populations created a commercial demand for food, resulting in the increase of production and entrance into the market for the farmers. This systemic practice of growing surplus for the purpose of profit replaced subsistence agriculture.
In the early 1900’s, farmers began increasing output and income by investing in machinery and fertilizer (a process known as intensification). Increased output led to increased supply. With so much available, the commodity value of food was decreased and farmers were met with the need to either keep increasing their productivity in order to simply break even or just quit altogether. Faced with this choice, millions of families abandoned farming as both a profession and a lifestyle.
Nowadays, with barely any real farmers left in comparison to how many there were, transnational corporations (huge globalized businesses) fill the primary roles of food production. Chapters two presents an overview of the beef cattle production industry. Starting after the end of the civil war, the “Cattle Kingdom” (the roots of today’s beef cattle industry) spread far from its home in South Texas throughout the Great Plains. While this was happening, Chicago’s first slaughterhouse was built in 1827. This led to Chicago becoming “the most important packing center in the country”.
The advents of railways and refrigeration triggered a shift in the industry of meatpacking from a local and seasonal business into a year-round and nationwide industry. From there, much like their agricultural counterparts, the people and the companies that founded the meatpacking industry are now replaced by the very same transnational corporations. Meat production produces marginal profit at best, so these corporations make their money by being cost efficient (ie, the bigger and more productive they are, the more they save/make).
Poultry production is the focus of chapter three. In the early 20th century, chicken was considered to be the highest level of delicacy because of its scarcity (what was usually available were only old hens and cockerels leftover from egg production. The modern poultry production industry (factory farming) started with Mrs. Cecile Steele, who ended up becoming a broiler chicken farmer due to a mistaken order. Utilizing her example, the chicken industry took off. Before long, it was figured out that by taking advantage of supplements and vitamins, growers ould raise poultry completely indoors. Chicken yards and coops turned into little metal pens and cages. By the 1930’s big business was already getting its hands into the industry by way of men like John Tyson and Frank Perdue, who achieved vertical integration by combining production, processing, and distribution to build regional and national businesses. Contracted chicken growers working for these businesses under their specifications came to replace independent chicken farmers working for themselves.
Becoming more and more efficient as they went on, poultry companies all but destroyed the marketability of the goods for the independent farmers, pushing them almost completely out of the picture. In chapter four, it is said that from colonial times to the 1950’s when it was overtaken by beef, pork was the major source of meat for Americans. Pioneers kept hogs as free-range animals that foraged for their food. Corn-fed pigs grew faster and bigger, so it was common practice to round up surplus hogs and corn-feed them in the weeks before they went to market (value is weight-based).
In 1818, the first meatpacking plant in Cincinnati was opened and became the dominating entity in pork production until the civil war, when it was replaced by Chicago. The fifth and sixth chapters discuss worker experience and relations in modern meat factories, and the histories that led them to this point. Made visible to the public eye through the work of Upton Sinclair, the conditions that meatpacking workers were faced with were horrendous. Extreme division of labor led to more employment of women (who occupied the lowest pay-grade).
Despite the differences in gender though, differences in nationality and language were the true lines of division. Low wages and unsafe conditions led such workers to form the first meatpacking union in 1878. Workers were exposed to contamination, bacteria, long hours, and strenuous labor. Through unionization, meatpacking workers attained significant benefits and better wages while fighting against the loss of their jobs to mechanized methods of production.
While conditions are better and workers work alongside helpful machines, jobs on the line remain boring and monotonous. The author uses as an example his experience at Running Iron Beef (an unnamed meatpacking plant), where he found major problems to be racial division (between the white, native-born Americans and those of multicultural backgrounds such as immigrants), language barriers, disregard of the workforce by those higher up, and the touting of core values that are core only in name.
The effects of an industry moving into a community are demonstrated in chapters seven and eight. Such effects found in a study of Garden City were a boom in population, a fluctuation of the crime rate from low to high then to an equilibrium (common for populations with large amounts of sudden newcomers), and an extremely diverse immigrant population (as attracted by the pay and benefits offered in the meatpacking plants).
Discussed negative effects on a community were pollution, contamination, the replacement of independent farmers by contracted “growers”, and infringement on the rights of those around the plants (neighbors, property owners, and local governments). Such negative effects have led to legal disputes in many instances, which (depending on the size of the business) are rarely handled fairly and sensibly at the expense of some profit loss. I feel that the authors presented their findings (which were extremely well and long-researched) in a logically efficient and consistent manner.
The division of the book into chapters leading from agricultural industrialization as a whole, to the individual histories of the meatpacking industry, all the way to the current state of the industry as seen by the workers in it and the communities around it. Areas for further study that come to mind for me would be how industrialization has affected other food-production industries like seafood. The book really did change the way I think about the meat that I consume every day and where it comes from (and where it was before that).
I feel as if reading it has given me a better knowledge concerning the food that I buy and the entities I am supporting with my money. Three concepts I learned from this book were: the history of factory poultry farming and how it got its start, the disappearance and pushing out of independent farmers only to be replaced by transnational corporations who abuse pretty much every factor of the equation but themselves, and that independent farmers are so little in number compared to contracted growers (who are almost nothing like real farmers. The significance of this book is that it provides an accessible and insightful view into the world of industrialized food production a subject that not many people see the flip side of. Countless people, myself included, tend to look no further than what is right in front of them. Taking the cheap and easy route may sound like a great idea at face value, but if it is done so at the expense of quality, safety, and overall wellbeing, it hardly worth it in my opinion.
When this kind of attitude is left without adjustment, things just get worse and society as a while buries itself in its own ignorance. Works Cited Stull, Donald D. , and Michael J. Broadway. Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry in North America. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004. Print. http://digitalcommons. unl. edu/cgi/viewcontent. cgi? article=1731&context=greatplainsresearch