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Food Plant

By localroger in Technology
Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 06:20:54 AM EST
Tags: Food (all tags)

In the spirit of my previous exploration of places my work has taken me, a meditation on a totally different part of our economy. If you're about to eat, you might want to wait until afterward to read this.

There are two ways into any Food Plant that do not involve eventually getting eaten.

Through the front office, if this is an upscale place like a large processing Plant there will be a nice reception area and access controls. There may even be secretary, though you will always wait for her attention because she has to answer the phone and take will-call orders and such as well as figure out why you're there. Once your purpose is established and you're buzzed in you'll pass the sales and accounting offices, crammed with supplies and inhabited by people trying to do three jobs at a time. Sometimes the computers are circa 1987 and sometimes they're state of the art, but sometimes the latter are perched atop crates or hastily shop-constructed furniture. Lower echelon Food Plants won't have the secretary, but instead a sign directing you to roughly constructed offices at the back of the Plant or up narrow stairs, and overworked salesmen will figure out who you are and where you need to be. For reasons I'll get to soon Food Plants are extremely fine-grained social hierarchies, and little symbols of status are everywhere.

One fundamental bit of status information to always keep in mind: Everyone who works in the Office is higher in status than anyone who works in the Plant. Indeed, mere access to the Office is one of those privileges that separate the upper Plant People from their inferiors.

From the back of the Plant you'll probably go through the truck loading bay which is one of the few parts of the Plant open to the outside world. If you're a little higher on the status ladder you might be greeted at the Maintenance shop. Almost every Plant large enough has a special area where Truck Drivers are required to wait as their vehicles are loaded or unloaded; in the pecking order of Food Plants Drivers are about as low as you can get. Though the parsing of status can get finer than my short-time senses are able to distinguish, I'd say Company Drivers (that is, those who work for the Plant itself or its owners) are about on the same plane as clean-up workers. Outside Drivers are esteemed lower still.

The Plant itself will be a series of large, high-ceilinged, smooth-walled, climate-controlled rooms. As at a chemical Plant, but for totally different reasons, there is a dress code; and similarly, the requirements vary widely as well as the level of enforcement of the rules that do exist. On days when the Plant is running, the environment in these rooms will vary from "room-temperature" to Arctic.

Nearly all Food Plants are laid out on a single level. Bare metal staircases are common for climbing up or over machinery, but actual architectural staircases leading to a different building level are very rare. In a small facility the offices might be overhead, or there might be a small upper area housing equipment that feeds a tall packing machine or where cardboard boxes are assembled and dropped into chutes feeding the main floor. But Food is heavy, and in many Plants the processing equipment is frequently rearranged. Any place a forklift can't go is severely purpose-restricted.

There is one exception to this. Sufficiently well-to-do Plants have drop ceilings made of metal-foam-metal laminated panels. From below, these are simply nice clean ceilings through which electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic services magically drop where they are needed. The panels are suspended from the real ceiling by wire or all-thread, creating a walk-in space where a jungle of pipe and wiring are kept neatly out of sight. One of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had in my job was walking around in one of these ceiling spaces, knowing that just a couple of pieces of sheet metal and six inches of plastic foam were all that kept me from a nasty fall. Those panels are easy to clean and great insulators but they suck as flooring, because they're very light and move all the time. And oh yes, rats can eat the insulation out from between the panels, invisibly weakening them.

Back on the ground some Plants have hallways, which always seem to end up constricted with supplies like pallets of boxes and packing material. In other Plants you have to walk through a maze of rooms, around all kinds of other processing equipment, often under or over working production lines just to get to some particular job. Some Plants have spacious open areas, while others are so crammed with processing equipment that moving around them at all is a challenge.

The Nature of the Business

The fundamental difference between Processing and Manufacturing was summed up for me some years ago by a Food Plant Manager. In Manufacturing, he explained, you take in many kinds of raw materials to assemble a lot of identical items for sale. In Processing, you take in a lot of very similar source items and, especially if they are animals, you take them apart to create a variety of items for sale which can vary on a daily basis depending on which machines you decide to use in the taking-apart process.

This has all kinds of subtle implications.

The Manufacturer can lay out specifications for his raw materials; even a mine will sort material to a certain grade before feeding it to processing machinery. As a result, manufacturing machinery tends not to change a lot once it's installed and working. But the raw input to a Food Plant is a series of variable individuals. Despite the staunchest efforts at controlled breeding and factory farming chicken and catfish and pigs and cows arrive at the Plant with variations. Some are larger than others, some are pecked or bitten or abused, some are diseased, and some are already dead (and these can't be sold to you for human consumption, thus the absurd-sounding requirement that cows be able to walk into the slaughterhouse).

Even when everything goes right a Plant might get a run from a farmer who grew perfectly sized 6.5 lb chickens, followed on by a truck from another whose chickens consistently attained 7.2 lb. Two different catfish farmers will bring in fish averaging the same weight, but the second will yield less meat because they're older fish that were fed less. You don't want to pay these two farmers the same if you can help it.

Vegetables are easier at the Plant level; most of the unpleasantness occurs out in the picking fields. Vegetables themselves don't tend to get taken apart in grotesque ways by their processors, and they sit still better for automated approaches. Nowadays tomatoes are sorted for ripeness by an optical color scanner. It automatically boots an enormous pile of heartbreakingly bright red fruit into the dumpster because it can tell that they will be rotten by the time they get to market.

But this doesn't automatically mean vegetarian Food Plants are pleasant places to be. Often the characteristics which make plants attractive to our taste originated as defense mechanisms. Imagine being in a room full of cut-up onions or cayenne peppers and you'll see what I mean. I've been there, and unless you're acclimated to the irritants in the air it's not pretty.

As they deal with the variability of their source materials, Food Plants also labor under the requirements of their customers, many of whom are manufacturers wanting an unnatural degree of consistency for their own purposes. Fast Food outlet commissaries are particularly demanding in this regard, because nobody wants customer A to feel cheated because Customer B got a monster chicken nugget while A got only lightweights. In fact, one anonymous retailer of chicken parts in red-and-white buckets is so picky that one anonymous Icelandic vendor of processing equipment whose name begins with "M" flatly refuses to even try to meet their accuracy requirements, and says so up-front in their sales pitches to processors.

Meanwhile, for decades a ubiquitous vendor of hamburgers with a vaguely Irish name refused to put tomatoes on its burgers because it could not guarantee a completely uniform experience for its customers both in and out of tomato season. Although they finally relented under intense competitive pressure from a royally-themed competitor, I don't know whether this was a total cave-in or if some technological advance was involved.

When animals are the source material, those employees that stay more than a week on the job get used to the rankness of pools of blood and the little bits of intestine and occasional small organs littering the floor of the big smooth-walled rooms. Here there are no euphemisms about "taking the source materials apart." The place where the source materials go from being live animals to dead meat is almost always called the Kill Floor, and the statistic from which all other statistics flow is the Daily Kill. As in,

Hey buddy, your fuckin lyin machine says we only killed two hunnerd twennny thousand but {some guy} back in Debone says we killed three hunnerd thou easy, can you figger that?
From the floor sweepers to the managers, nobody in the Food Plant thinks ill of the idea of Killing (their source animals at least). They do not Kill indiscriminately; and like any predator, they only Kill so that they (and by extension we their customers) may live. Food Plants are in fact perfect Predators on a scale that teeny little drooly or techno-wonk movie Aliens can only think about in bad dreams. Food Plants kill with a ruthless efficiency that is truly awe-inspiring. It is not unusual for a Food Plant staffed by a few hundred human employees to not only kill several hundred thousand chickens in one day but to also render them into halves, quarters, tenders, breasts, drumsticks, wings, and to selectively bread, freeze, and even cook some of those products before pricing, tray-packing, and then bulk-packing the trays for shipment to your grocer. It is an amazing technical feat, and the tiny little desire each chicken or catfish or cow might have to live on for its own purpose has no bearing on it at all.

The Dress Code, Sanitation, and Hazards

If safety is the holy grail of dress and conduct in a chemical plant, in the Food Plant it's sanitation. Safety figures in too, and is generally regarded as having the higher priority, but most of the hazards are obvious and avoidable. But sanitation is both a regulatory and public relations hot-button. It's also hard to maintain. You cannot look at a piece of stainless steel that's about to be touched by someone's future dinner, and readily tell that it was just touched by a hand that was recently used to stow a flu-germ-laden handkerchief. Everything must be clean, and when it gets unclean or is even suspected of being unclean you have to be able to clean it in a hurry. This requirement drives both clothing and machinery design.

In the US if you want to visit a processing area you will have to wear a hair net and, if you have a beard, a beard net to contain any stray hairs. You are also required to wash your hands, and in most facilities to wear rubber gloves if you actually touch food. You may also be required to wear rubber boots (especially in places that sell to Russia, where this is a particular requirement for some reason). In places some you must wear a smock over your street clothing. And you will have to wear more elaborate impermeable gear in certain jobs.

Unlike the garb required by chemical plants, like Nomex coveralls, these items aren't for your protection; they're for the public who doesn't want to catch your cold from the catfish nugget you filleted.

Corporate altruism isn't driving this concern for your health. In the United States it's the USDA, which got its regulatory teeth because of Upton Sinclair's early 20th-century muckraking masterpiece The Jungle, a thoroughly disgusting account of Sinclair's experiences working in the slaughterhouses of Chicago.

For your protection you may be required to wear earplugs because the machinery can be ridiculously loud, but most of the danger to you as a worker comes from much more obvious things.

Food Plants are equipped with a lot of equipment designed to slice, crush, and rend flesh; and to do this very quickly in large quantities. There is no way to put a safety interlock on one of these machines that says "oops, human flesh." Even seemingly benign things like conveyor belts can take a finger or arm if you get caught on them.

The other major safety hazard has to do with electricity. In a place where water gets into everything, it's bad that "everything" can include electrical plugs and distribution boxes, some carrying 480VAC. If the wet spot happens to reach from a live wire to your body, it can kill you.

The sanitation requirements extend to machinery. After a busy shift of slicing, sorting, crushing, and conveying raw dripping bloody meat, any self-respecting machine needs to be washed. Machines like injectors, deheaders, portioners, and automatic filleters which take animals inside them to do their work must be thoroughly washed both inside and out. This is a fundamental design requirement for any machine in a Food Plant, and every single day machines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are taken apart to a degree you'd usually consider frightening if you owned something worth that much money.

At the same time, if those machines have electronics or motors or power distribution boxes (many operating at 240 or 480 volts) they must be protected from the very water that is necessary to keep the food-contact parts clean. This is an ever-present tension in Food Plant equipment design, for which there are no truly reliable solutions.

The Pecking Order

If you read my previous Chemical Plant piece you may have noticed I didn't say much about the workers. That's because chemical plants don't really have very many workers; the automation lets a relatively small crew run the place, and this in turn allows the company to pay pretty good wages and look for skilled workers for the positions that do exist. There is a hierarchy but it's barely visible unless you work there an awful lot.

Food Plants are different. From the smallest shrimp processor to the mighty transnational giants, the variability of living things makes automation a problem. So they have a lot of workers, the majority of whom are at the bottom of the hierarchy.

I've already mentioned Truck Drivers, who are widely held in contempt for being incapable of finding "better" work. (I don't share this view, but it's one I often encounter.) Getting past the Trucker's Lounge into the plant proper, there are a few guidelines you can keep in mind if you can't find your Field Guide to Plant Workers:

  1. All office work is higher status than any Plant work.
  2. The more elaborate protective or sanitary gear your job requires you to wear, the lower your status.
  3. Working night is lower in status than working day, and working odd hours (e.g. almost all non-office jobs) is lower in status than working 9 to 5.
  4. A job that leaves you free to move around is higher in status than one that requires you to stand or sit at a station for hours on end.
  5. If you're free to visit restricted areas of the Plant such as the Maintenance shop, Parts room, or Quality Assurance lab at will, it puts you above those who must stay out.
  6. If you are free to move from the Plant proper to the front Office at will, you are higher in status than someone stuck out in the Plant.
  7. If you have a workspace to call your own where you can hang pictures of your family, it's juice.
  8. If you have a private office even out in the Plant, you are almost among the Office gods. If you have a private office in the front Office you are probably getting pretty steamed about this article about now.
  9. Making more money is obviously a status enhancer, but significantly it's not as important as the other factors.
Keeping all this in mind, let's start at the bottom.

In the middle of the night, after two busy production shifts, quiet rooms wait with machines that are carefully disassembled in some ways, yet buttoned up in others. The cleanup crew arrives, dressed from head to toe in brightly-colored heavy insulated rubber jumpsuits, hoods, and masks. They make two passes. For the first they are armed with guns that fire disinfectant foam, and their mission is to cover every exposed surface. The foam will be allowed to settle, and they will return armed with 600 PSI hot water jets. Their mission is to get rid of the foam, which remember is supposed to cover every exposed surface.

Sanitation crews are the bottom of the hierarchy in a Food Plant, and they know it; in some places they are even outside contractors. You can't really blame them for occasionally "accidentally" hosing down a contractor like me (bonus points if I'm using a laptop computer!), or using the high pressure hose to very thoroughly test the sealing surfaces on some supposedly watertight electronic gear. Since they are told very seriously that their mission is to reach every nook and cranny and that they'll be in big trouble if they miss a spot, sanitation guys are known for climbing on everything, blasting everything in sight, and generally causing a hell of a lot of damage.

Later, after the machines are reassembled and repaired if necessary, the Line Operators will arrive. These are the people who stand at a station all day long cutting breast fillets from chickens on a cone line or finishing the incomplete filleting job a Baader machine started at a catfish plant. These are the most numerous employees at most Food Plants. It's a low-paying job with no security because people like me are always waiting in the wings to replace you with automation. It's Repetitive Stress Injury hell, and you get major grief from yield-conscious supervisors for even going to the bathroom at the wrong time. (Until recently a lot of places simply forbade you to take unscheduled rest breaks, a practice which the US labor authorities have sensibly judged to be a bit over the top.)

The major difference between Chemical Plant culture and Food Plant culture has to do with the numerical preponderance of Line Operators. If the Starship Enterprise were to beam up a random worker from a Chemical Plant they would probably get a maintenance guy. From a Food Plant they would almost certainly get a Line Operator. They might be low-paid dead-enders, but their sheer numbers guarantee that you can't ignore these people if you work in their Plant. If you eat in the commissary, you will be surrounded by them. If you work in the Plant while it is running, you will be surrounded by them. Most of them are nice people; often they are trusted with filleting knives that would make wickedly efficient murder weapons. But if your job leaves you free to move around, much less with the promise that next week you won't be stuck in a Food Plant, they will watch you with a gaze that reminds you all too much of Oliver Twist.

Line Operators who have put in years of dedicated service or displayed more than completely mediocre aptitude will progress to slightly less boring jobs like taking and measuring samples for Quality Assurance and being "lead" operators responsible for the adjustment of critical machines, and for pre-cleanup teardown and post-cleanup reassembly of those machines.

One other thing needs to be noted about Line people. These are of course shit jobs, and they pay shitty wages (US$7 to $9 an hour, which is a very, very hard wage to live on in the US). Although American towns tend to welcome such Plants for the employment they will bring, it's not unusual for American workers to turn up their noses at the wages and general unpleasantness of the job. So it's very common for these Plants to go trolling in the Third World for immigrant workers. The job any self- respecting American would reject because you can't raise a family on $7 an hour will be eagerly grabbed by a Mexican or Marshall Islander (!wtf?) who figures that with only six roommates he can have money to go barhopping on Friday night, plus send a few thousand a year back home.

Food Plants have thus brought large immigrant communities into such unlikely places as Springdale, Arkansas and Enterprise, Alabama, to the extent that Plants have full-time translators on staff and communities that were once fully redneck-compliant have surprisingly good ethnic restaurants and car dealerships that advertise in languages other than English.

How shitty are the wages? One of the shittiest jobs in any Food Plant is Live Hang, where you physically take live chickens out of arriving trucks and hang them by their feet from the overhead moving racks that take them into the Plant. It's hard physical work, it's hot, and it stinks to high $DEITY. It's also one of the most sought-after jobs in the Plant because it pays US$0.50 to US$1.00 an hour more than being a straight Line Operator.

Over the Line up you have Maintenance, which is approximately the level I operate at status-wise when I have to visit one of these places. Plant Maintenance guys have the ultimate freedom of movement, coupled with crushing responsibility. They are the guys who fix things when something goes wrong, and they're also the ones who do the refiguring and rearranging when changes are made. They dress out for the Plant but in uniforms that aren't optimized for food contact.

Long-time Maintenance guys may have their own little workspaces, while newer guys have to use shared work areas. In some plants the tools are communal (with elaborate sign-out procedures) and in others you own (and replace) your own as do many auto mechanics. The environment is brutal and problems are constant. Higher-up Maintenance guys get access to the Purchasing system and get small, dingy, crowded offices to call their own.

At a similar level you get the QA (Quality Assurance) people, who would be higher in status if they didn't spend so much time out in the plant decked out for contact with food. They are almost white-collar and actually visit the front office on a regular basis. In some Plants their main shared office is even up front. They are the people who take samples, conduct tests, and generally ensure that health and quality goals are really being met. They can make decisions about stopping lines and condemning product that can cost the company big bucks. They tend to be pretty well educated, especially with regard to statistics. If you're one of those immigrant Mexicans or Marshall Islanders brought in to fill the Line Operator ranks, QA is about as high as you can hope to get in the organization after years of hard work and self-improvement.

At about this point you cross the Office door and reach the accounting and sales people, whose positions aren't much different than they would be in any other business. They are white-collar 9 to 5 people and so they live on a totally different plane from the Plant People who work a 5 to 3 or 4 to midnight shifts (much less Sanitation from 1 to 4 AM).

There are a couple of exceptions.

It's usual for the Plant Manager to stay dressed out so he can make the rounds, and even to keep odd hours. It can even be hard to spot this high-ranking official in the Plant because he looks a hell of a lot like a Maintenance guy from a distance, even though he makes five times the money and has fifteen times the authority of the Maintenance guy.

Maintenance guys also break the mold in that they can work very weird hours, because a lot of maintenance stuff has to be done in the odd few hours or off days when the Plant isn't running. This doesn't ding their status because of their freedom of movement and the massive amounts of overtime pay they often take home.

Line Down!

Although it's very hard to automate food processing, a lot of automation is used, especially in the chicken and seafood industries. The reason for this automation is to assure profitability while operating under razor-thin margins. Food Plants will readily pay enormous amounts of money for proven technology, which is one reason companies like mine court their business. But at every corner they are also looking to cut costs. The bizarre consequences of these cross purposes often appear at their intersection in the Maintenance shop.

When a line goes down because a machine is broken, the Plant hemorrhages money. The maintenance guys have to be ready to work on an enormous variety of machines, and to quickly repair them while Line Operators stand around staring at them and product sits unprocessed. I've seen Plants where these guys have enormous, unbelievably rich stores of spare parts to draw on; and I've seen others where parsimony in this department leaves them frantically calling contractors to have parts air-freighted or even hand delivered at enormous expense when a nasty surprise occurs.

In any case there is a strange juxtaposition at work when you pay US$350,000 for a machine, stock $50,000 worth of spare parts, and pay the people who operate it all day $8 an hour. Even the maintenance guys are not as well paid for their skills and responsibility as they would be in other industries. In a Chemical Plant I understand it's a given that the operators and even forklift drivers probably make more money than I do; they will often even be unionized. In a Food Plant the reverse is almost always true. The end result of this tension between payroll and automation is workers who are overworked, underpaid, and subject to constant, tremendous stress.

In many Food Plants it can also be hard to find anyone willing to make a firm decision because the pressure from above makes ass-covering a wiser move than neck-sticking-out. I have had to go all the way to Plant Managers on numerous occasions to get authorization for ordering parts which were absolutely necessary to the Plant's return to profitability.

And unfortunately, in some cases that Plant Manager is a control freak who likes this constant demonstration of groveling and fear. In many ways the Food Plant is a third-world country in microcosm, and this extends to the totalitarian decision-making structure.

Greetings, Comrade!

The largest Food Plant empires don't just market their products to the outside world; within the Plant they market themselves to their own workers.

  1. The company Credit Union is probably your bank.
  2. At lunch, the company cafeteria is often one of the best and cheapest restaurants in town.
  3. The company store offers you even deeper discounts on bulk purchased items than Sam's Club.
  4. Posters abound reminding you that Safety comes first.
  5. More posters remind you that it's your duty to follow sanitation procedures, because "everyone deserves healthy food."
  6. Still more posters remind you what a great place the Company is to work for.
  7. Some Companies offer bulk purchased vacation deals and other perks.
  8. And just to make you feel at home, everything is posted and made available in whatever languages other than English are commonly spoken within the Plant.
Overall, the impression created is that you aren't just a citizen of Mexico or the Marshall Islands or even the USA any more; you're a citizen of the much better, benevolent, and ubiquitous Big Food Plant Company.

Naturally the low-paid worker drones find all this propaganda offensive and stupid, but the nature of propaganda is that you don't have to believe in it for it to be effective. If your whole existence revolves around the Plant it can be very hard to even imagine leaving for something else. And this is a major, very deliberate way they hang onto those workers despite the thoroughly depressing nature of the job.

Aside: One of my favorite Patriotic Plant posters cries out "Not even good enough for a dog!" In the Plant, any food that touches the floor can't be sold for human consumption. There's no five-second rule at work either; if it hits the floor, it goes in the INEDIBLE bin. But this contaminated food is sold to pet food processors who aren't subject to the same restriction. Under the razor-thin margins of chicken plant economics, this secondary product stream can be an important source of revenue. The purpose of the poster, which shows a forlorn-looking dog eyeing up a bowl full of rusty parts and old gloves, is not to contaminate the contaminated product stream with stuff that's really inedible.

Maintenance Day!

At many Plants downtime for doing real maintenance is precious; the bottom line demands that those expensive machines be kept humming, and if one is really thoroughly down in the middle of a row of four, you can't shut down the other three to create a benign environment for fixing the one that's hosed.

When that's done, it can be a major event. At some Plants it can be as seldom as one day in a two week period, or even in a month if things are going well.

When it comes, the Maintenance department gets mandatory overtime all around. It's not unusual for the whole crew to work 48 hours straight -- with overtime on Saturday and doubletime on Sunday -- and a hard deadline to get it all working by 1:00 AM on Monday when the cleanup guys will arrive.

It's a little awe-inspiring to watch a bunch of mostly redneck type guys with no firm engineering background set upon a processing line worth $500,000 in the wee hours of Saturday morning and start taking it apart with cutting torches and carbide saws, all to make room for some new machine. It's the odd flipside of the pervasive cheapness these places exhibit; for new technology that can impact the bottom line, they will spend and risk much.

I was personally involved at one Plant where the processing machines at the heart of twelve Lines -- more than eight million dollars worth of equipment -- were swapped out and the Lines rebuilt around the replacements during a single long 72-hour weekend. This required refiguring all the conveyors, all the usual installation hassles of brand new machines of that complexity, new electrical connections, some other smaller new systems (including one of mine) put in at the same time with their own handling considerations.

On Maintenance Day the Plant is a different place; the cavernous rooms are empty except for other Maintenance guys, and you can work in shirtsleeves. Indeed, toward Sunday afternoon the place begins to stink a bit as the bacteria in leftover scraps of meat in the drainage channels and odd corners begin to realize the refrigeration is off. Guys are everywhere (usually there are several jobs going on at once, to take maximum advantage of the down time) using saws, drills, welding torches, and paint guns. Nobody takes even the ordinary considerations as to where the inedible crap is flying because, well, it will be Cleanup's job to deal with that. The stink of fresh welding is the most prominent smell, though solvent fumes can also build up to an amazing degree in closed spaces that are designed for refrigeration.

Somehow, the boys usually manage to put everything back together in a day or two. It helps that most things are stainless steel and so don't have to be (and aren't) painted; you just weld, wire-brush, and walk off. Massive "spare" supplies of raw metal stock, bearings, motors, electrical fittings, and conveyor belting also help.

It doesn't always work, though, when the Food arrives. It's common on startup after such a project to see Maintenace guys out there with hair nets on, eyes dragging from days without sleep, fixing bits of stainless steel sheet in place with C-clamps and other quick rigs to correct little problems that will be fixed permanently in the hour or so before the Cleanup guys arrive that night. And sometimes you see guys like me out there for days on end, working out the details of more complicated processes that can only be worked out with a steady stream of real food product to test.

Chow Down.

The first Food Plant I ever visited, on the second day of my employment with the company I still work for, was one of the most benign. It had no Kill Floor; it was a reprocessing facility that bought sides of beef and converted them into hamburger patties for a very prominent fast food chain. By Food Plant standards it was clean as a whistle, state of the art, and mostly free of little bloody gibbets of crap on the floor.

It was still a whole month before I could make myself eat another hamburger. The smell wasn't offensive, but it was pervasive; it was just the smell of a lot of meat. The smell of death.

What doesn't come across in this description is the visceral experience of being in a place where there is, literally, so much dead meat all around. People can get used to it; I think people can get used to damn near anything. But it's about as far removed from the occasional chicken or pig slaughter on Grandma's farm as a spacecraft is from a horse-and-buggy. I'm not saying it's wrong; I like the cheap food too. It's an amazing thing that chicken costs about the same today in absolute (not inflation-adjusted) dollars as it did when I was a child. And we have technology to thank for that. I'm glad it's there.

But I'm also glad I know what it looks like, even if I didn't eat hamburgers for a month after I first learned. For one thing it gave me a great appreciation for why the food seems so different when I visit a place like Trinidad or the rural area around Veracruz where they don't have these economies of scale. It seems unlikely, but just as a cabinet made from hand-selected wood by a craftsman will not be the same as one stamp-constructed out of particle board laminate, the chicken that is raised in a barnyard isn't the same as one grown from genetically growth-optimized stock in a closed building and trucked to a closed facility to be mass-processed along with 100,000 other chickens a day. I've learned to appreciate such food when I can have it.

In the places I live and frequent you can't get it very often.


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Favorite Food Plant?
o Beef ("Ear Mor Chikin") 33%
o Pork (Bellies!) 7%
o Whale (Shamu!) 11%
o Tuna (Charlie!) 14%
o Chicken ("Cluck?") 22%
o Catfish (Yumm, one eye closed) 0%
o Shrimp (if only you knew) 11%

Votes: 27
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
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Food Plant | 67 comments (61 topical, 6 editorial, 2 hidden)
protein is protein. nt. (1.33 / 3) (#1)
by spooked on Mon Oct 25, 2004 at 10:50:31 PM EST

Nope (2.84 / 13) (#2)
by localroger on Mon Oct 25, 2004 at 11:10:53 PM EST

While I was in Veracruz we stopped at a little place by the seaside with no electricity; unknown to our guide, another birding tour had just been through and nearly wiped them out. They still had some langostinos (crawfish) which we were shown were still alive, therefore fresh. They also had beer, but it was warm. While we were discussing the options a small boy ran up from the beach with a few fish he had just caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

The food was amazingly good all around, but what I remember was one doctor who makes about ten times the money I do. He got one of the three fish the boy brought up from the Gulf. The whole thing, langostinos and fish, were cooked over propane with butter in primitive circumstances.

I thought the langostinos were good, but then I'm not a food snob. The doctor, who was, said his fish was the best fish he'd ever eaten.

Life is not just about continuing life; it is also about enjoying the life you have. And for that reason, all protein is not created equal.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

I have always wondered this about people (2.50 / 6) (#11)
by ZorbaTHut on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 06:52:17 AM EST

Are there honestly humans out there whose sole goal in life is to survive until they die of old age, and maybe, if they're feeling extremely daring, have sex a reasonable number of times?

Because I can't imagine anything more boring. I mean, we're on this planet, right? And I don't have a clue what happens next, and nobody else does either, really.

So why not enjoy it while we're here? Maybe the next step is Nirvana, or maybe it's limbo, or maybe, diety save us, it's oblivion. But in any case I'm not going out without a fight, and I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live dammit.

And obviously there *are* people out there who have no dreams or plans, but . . . I'll never understand them in the least.

[ Parent ]

I have no dreams or plans. (2.40 / 5) (#18)
by Nursie on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:36:38 AM EST

Well not many, other than to enjoy myself. Eating fresh caught fish and langoustine sounds like a good start to me :)

Meta Sigs suck.

[ Parent ]
Sigged! (none / 1) (#36)
by RadiantMatrix on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 04:54:00 PM EST

I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live dammit.
Bonus.  Sigged!

I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live, dammit. [ZorbaTHut]

[ Parent ]
Heres to unprocessed food (3.00 / 5) (#17)
by JonesBoy on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:32:32 AM EST

All of the food we eat in 1st world coutries is sanitary, proportioned, processed, perfectly grown and ripened.   Its also completely tastless.   The vegetables have been grown in a sea of chemicals and dead dirt to be large and pretty, but they never develop the taste you get from good soil.   The meat is young, steriod and hormone pumped and tastes like nothing.    I'd take a venison burger over cow any day.   The varied diet, exercise, and virility of the animal just taste so much better.   Its gamy and tough, but thats how its SUPPOSED to be.   Wild berries and fruit, although covered in bugs and usually malformed and tiny, packs an unbelieveable punch of flavor.

People concentrate of appearance, preparation, and presentation, but forget flavor.   I've eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world, but the best meal I ever ate was standing over a garbage can.

Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
[ Parent ]

It's not that bad (2.66 / 6) (#22)
by ZorbaTHut on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:58:23 AM EST

My mom gardens. She has a surprisingly large garden in the city - she's basically reclaimed the entire section that used to be a desolate lawn and added, well, a garden. And I mean a GARDEN here - I think we've got something like 14 trees, half of which are fruit-bearing. Garlic, onions, potatoes. Herbs of all kinds, you name it. Carrots, squash, beets, leeks, I don't even know half of what she grows. (We did finally manage to beat back the blackberry bushes a bit, and unfortunately, the cherry tree is diseased and needs to come out. These things happen.) The number of times we've sat down to a meal and she's said "Oh, by the way, I grew this all" is truly absurd.

Yes, it tastes better.

Yes, it tastes a lot better.

No, supermarket food isn't inedible compared to it.

Which is not to say that her food isn't far better. If I had the choice, I'd choose her potatoes over store-bought potatoes any day. But when I don't have the choice, I eat store-bought potatoes and really enjoy them.

Processed food isn't as tasty, but it's far from tasteless, and if you don't insist on eating gourmet meals every day of your life it's perfectly acceptable. Note, however, that I'm talking about cooking your own meals - not buying TV dinners.

Those truly *are* awful.

[ Parent ]

That's alright for you, perhaps. (2.61 / 13) (#34)
by Russell Dovey on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 03:21:25 PM EST

Personally, I am a fervent supporter of modern food production because if you hunt and kill a wild, free-ranging animal, you're ending a happy life of freedom, murdering a free beast of nature for your own pleasure.

And organic farming is even worse; the very idea of raising an animal happily, gently, and kindly, only to throw it down a chute, slit its throat and blast it to shreds with a firehose is disgusting to anyone with a shred of decency.

Killing an animal in a factory, though; that's the one act of kindness in its cramped, drugged, brutal life. I enjoy every supermarket steak knowing that the cow who died to produce it is no longer suffering.

Also, each bite reminds me that if I don't buy more steak, another cow in similar circumstances might never be killed, and might go on suffering. I couldn't have that on my conscience.

Remember, kids: Organic chicken is murder, factory chicken is mercy!

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan
[ Parent ]

Advocacy-Style-Troll Rating: 9.5! [NT] (none / 1) (#39)
by Alannon on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:27:21 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Psst, it's "Adequacy" /nt (none / 1) (#42)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:52:40 PM EST

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
Wow. (2.22 / 9) (#24)
by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 09:18:08 AM EST

How many times have I used THAT line.

localroger is a tool.
In memory of the You Sad Bastard thread. A part of our heritage.
[ Parent ]
Fascinating (2.33 / 3) (#3)
by kmcrober on Mon Oct 25, 2004 at 11:45:06 PM EST

Great article - very interesting.  I think it could use some context, though.  Maybe I'm just used to a little more pedantic style of writing, but I'd rather start off with a quick "this is what my job was, this is the general style of plant I'm talking about."

But that's just a minor gripe about a wonderfully meaty submission.  +1 FP.  

Have you thought about writing an article or book?  If your work takes you to a lot of highly specialized industrial environments like these food and chemical plants, it would be a fascinating read.  

Fast Food Nation had a chapter similar to this one, of course, and it was one of the most compelling parts of the book.  Literally required reading in law school.  Well, from one professor, anyway.  I'd definately be interested in a more technical approach to the same topic.

He did write a book: (2.00 / 2) (#33)
by Insoc on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 03:16:13 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Great Story /nt (1.33 / 3) (#5)
by skyknight on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:06:17 AM EST

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
your work? (2.00 / 2) (#6)
by khallow on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:12:52 AM EST

Could you describe the circumstances under which you managed to work/visit at a number of food plants or chemical plants? Obviously, living in Louisiana helps a lot.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Background (3.00 / 6) (#16)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:17:49 AM EST

Well I'm trying to be a little circumspect :-)

I work for a distributor of industrial equipment. Some of what we sell is instrumentation, and some is mechanical transducers and whatnot that make the instrumentation work. Typically industrial customers come to us because they need to do certain kinds of measurements, either for monitoring or process control. Some of our systems also do information collection. Yes, I'm being coy about exactly which industry I work in, though anyone who also works in it has probably already guessed (and probably also knows who I am).

The company I work for is a distributor; we don't build much equipment ourselves, but rather represent various manufacturers whose products we sell and install their equipment for them. We do some "value-added" manufacturing, building systems around components that are available to us and integrating things into the overall plant environment.

There is a regional bias in my experience; my company mostly does business in the southeastern United States. You'll notice in this article I don't say much about red meat (beef, pork) Plants; most of those are located up north and I've had less exposure to them. I have heard some truly stomach-churning stories about what goes on in the Kill Floors of those places but it didn't seem right to just pass them along as my own experience.

I've been doing this since 1984; I started out as a service technician. My job has gradually morphed into "programmer" as computers entered the industry. Nowadays I am much more likely to be building value-added systems than fixing broken things, but it's a small enough company that when all the other techs are out, I still occasionally get drafted to drive the forklift :-)

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Excellent +1 FP (2.33 / 3) (#8)
by arfabrane on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 03:04:45 AM EST

I'm a Tech Manager in a Food Plant (top of the food Chain!) People have no idea what happens in a food plant but yours is a good over view.

Aint Capitalism GGGRRREEAATTT!!?? (1.09 / 11) (#12)
by cryon on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:16:31 AM EST

Ignorant brainwashed Americans. I bet West European food plants aint this bad!

We don't have them (2.30 / 10) (#13)
by GenerationY on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:49:37 AM EST

you obviously missed the bit were Roger stated they run on electricity, not burning peat, candle light and three Huzzahs! for the Queen, God bless her soul.

[ Parent ]
Superb stuff (3.00 / 4) (#14)
by GenerationY on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:04:59 AM EST

I didn't get the chance to vote, but I'm glad it got on the front page.

A good thing you've captured here is what my brother described to me (he used to design production line equipment albeit for manufacturing) which is that the profit imperative at boardroom level becomes pressure at middle management and then can become outright fear on the factory floor. The world hasn't ended because a machine choked and was out for an hour, but there are hundreds of people who end up feeling it might.

the worst factory I ever smelt (2.20 / 5) (#15)
by fleece on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:15:50 AM EST

was a pabrik tahu (tofu factory) in Java. There's these big vats of fermenting bean curd that just smell totally rank, and being in a hot shed doesn't help... I was dry reaching and had to get out. I can't image any smell worse than that, but I'm sure there is.....

I feel like some drunken crazed lunatic trying to outguess a cat ~ Louis Winthorpe III
Rendering Plants (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:36:50 AM EST

Odds are if you smell something from a Food Plant that seems to reach right into your brain and flick the Vomit Center on, it's a rendering plant. This is a kind of continuous cooker that takes all kinds of barely edible waste product (feathers, entrails, etc.) at the input end and emits a stream of "animal protein product" which is usually destined for animal feed.

Normal processing has that "smell of death" within the plant, but nothing stinks up the surrounding countryside quite like the cooking down process in a rendering plant. (I KNEW there was something I forgot to put in the story proper.)

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Holding pens (2.50 / 2) (#43)
by Rhodes on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:03:17 PM EST

Holding pens with animals waiting for slaughter are pretty rank, too.

[ Parent ]
Potato plant? (none / 1) (#62)
by zapb42 on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 02:50:25 PM EST

I'm sure it isn't nearly as bad, but I get to live downwind of a potato processing plant.  The smell blankets the whole town, really, if the wind is out of the north.  From what I gather they make a lot of fries and stuff like that, but not for fast food chains, as those potatoes come from other parts of the country.

I couldn't quite figure it out for the longest time I was up here, in Grand Forks, being mostly from other parts of the country.  In this corner of the nation, potatoes (small ones, generally, not the Idaho variety) and sugar beets are a huge crop, and either kind of plant has its own peculiar odor.  Anyways thats probably the worst non-meat plant smell I have experienced.

[ Parent ]

also bad. (2.00 / 2) (#65)
by /dev/trash on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 10:57:01 PM EST

The smell from a Paper plant.

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
[ Parent ]
Excellent (2.50 / 6) (#21)
by tonyenkiducx on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 08:58:06 AM EST

I was rivetted from beginning to end.

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
I just noticed the pun. Not intended(N/T) (none / 1) (#50)
by tonyenkiducx on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 06:46:29 AM EST

I see a planet where love is foremost, where war is none existant. A planet of peace, and a planet of understanding. I see a planet called
[ Parent ]
Dress code (2.75 / 4) (#23)
by wiredog on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 09:05:47 AM EST

Sounds rather like clean room dress codes. Hairnet/cap+beard cover, booties, lab coat, all designed to protect the product from the worker.

So does the politics. When I was doing a job for a hard drive manufacturer in Minneapolis we needed a $50 part to get the job done. It was, miracle of miracles, available from a local distributor. All we had to do was drive over and pick it up. Total down time, two hours. But we had to get authorization. Which required processing the paperwork through 5 layers of bureaucracy. It was the next day before the authorization came through. Total downtime 24 hours. With a team of 3 people on overtime and per diem sitting around doing nothing.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

I've often wondered (2.50 / 2) (#48)
by ZorbaTHut on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 04:10:08 AM EST

Why do large companies have organization like this? Isn't the goal, in theory, "make a lot of money"? I can't even imagine how much money they lost through the 24 hours of downtime, compared to perhaps a little extra loss due to people buying the wrong part once in a while.

Or, I don't know. Maybe "make more money" is subservient to "make other people work under you".

[ Parent ]

Accountability via bureaucracy (2.50 / 2) (#53)
by wiredog on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 09:34:00 AM EST

Any large organization has this problem. You want to make sure that employees and vendors aren't stealing from you. Sure, $50 isn't much, but if lots of people do it, it adds up. So you impose various rules to prevent, say, $800 coffee pots (which were actually justified in that case) and $500 hammers (not justified). Those rules sometimes result in $50 parts costing $1000.

The accountants are supposed to do cost/benefit analyses to ensure that the rules result in fewer $50 parts costing $1000 because of bureaucracy than $5 hammers costing $500 because of vendor ripoffs.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]

Hmm (2.00 / 2) (#54)
by ZorbaTHut on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 11:04:03 AM EST

I guess my real question is "Isn't there a better way to do this?"

Like, for example, they could record all transactions, then check them later. If someone's consistently making horribly overpriced purchases, talk to them or fire them. Obviously don't let anyone spend a million dollars without authorization, but $50 shouldn't be a problem.

I'm used to working at companies with the policy of "if you need something, get it" - maybe having to wait for authorization isn't as bad as I think it is (or maybe it's worse!) but I just look at how well I've seen it work out and I wonder what the problem is.

[ Parent ]

Small vs large companies (2.50 / 2) (#55)
by wiredog on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 11:27:33 AM EST

Small companies can have the "need it-get it" policy. Chances are the President/Owner of the company knows the employee doing the getting, or at least the manager. Larger companies, especially publically traded ones, have a different dynamic.

Sure, if someone's consistently making overpriced purchases you can catch it in a later audit. Or even if many people are making unneeded $50 purchases. Getting the money back might be a problem, however.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]

And this is why... (none / 1) (#59)
by localroger on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 12:52:02 PM EST

...I like my job, working for a smaller company where responsibility tends to be distributed to those who need to exercise it instead of centralized at some High Command.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
Me too (none / 1) (#60)
by wiredog on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 01:31:13 PM EST

Except that every small company I've worked for has radically downsized, or cratered.

Not a worry at $BigDefenseContractor.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]

But that's what I'm saying here (none / 1) (#63)
by ZorbaTHut on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 06:00:57 PM EST

Sure, maybe you end up losing a few extra thousand - or even a few extra ten thousands - every year. As long as you have reasonable caps on people's spending (i.e. "no total purchases of $1000 per month or more, everything will be audited on a monthly basis") it shouldn't extend past that.

And doesn't the one time you get 22 extra hours of production at a major plant, because Bob could go get the part he needed instead of waiting for authorization, more than make it up? By several orders of magnitude?

This just smacks, to me, of a serious case of "Well, the good news is, we won the battle. The bad news is, remember that war we were fighting?"

[ Parent ]

the fine grain social hierarchy (2.83 / 6) (#25)
by bukvich on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 12:40:16 PM EST

What strikes me as odd is the truck driver is lower than the guy whose nose is most filled with the stench of death.

I remember in elementary school an uncle telling me the reason I wanted to do all my homework and do my best on all my tests was so that I did not end up working in a rendering plant, something I did not even know existed, which he delighted in elaborating on the meaning of what it would mean to grow up and be unfit for finer employment than "working in a rendering plant".

Thank you for writing this.

Halal/Kosher food? (2.85 / 7) (#26)
by Anonymous Hiro on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:02:00 PM EST

Question - how about halal and kosher stuff? Is it processed the same way?

In my country where the majority of the population is muslim, most meats have to be halal. I think some of the popular slaughtering, processing and handling methods used in the US  would render the product nonhalal (haram) or nonkosher. Is the slaughtering process the same in other developed countries that export meat? e.g. Australia/NZ?

Another thing - over here the eating of offal and other parts is fairly common, and there's a decent market for stuff like that - chicken: feet, gizzards, liver, intestines. Beef: stomach/tripe, liver, lungs. So on and so forth.

If there's a decent market for such offal intact would the processing be significantly different?

In the west there's probably a very limited market for such things - so where do these things end up?

I was actually quite impressed when you mentioned a prominent fast food chain uses recognizable sides of beef to make its patties. I'd have thought they'd use something else. Beef lungs or various other offal.

Lastly, USD9/hour is more than what I earn in IT as a consultant in my country. No wonder we don't have e.coli. problems with our meat - with our labour costs, animals can probably be slaughtered manually, without spreading guts and shit all over the carcass ala machine-style. Plus some of us eat some of those guts etc, so they'll valuable enough to be treated well. Same goes for salmonella.

salmonella (none / 1) (#27)
by Anonymous Hiro on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:03:27 PM EST

I meant - salmonella as a prob like the ecoli prob. Not that we eat stuff like that ;).

[ Parent ]
Good questions (3.00 / 4) (#29)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:41:37 PM EST

Most of my experience has not been in red meat (beef, pork) plants, so some of what I've said applies less there. I know from what others have told me they are less automated at the kill end, and I assume that they separate out the organs because you can in fact buy organ meat in US markets (though it's not very popular). I have also worked on machines that process, for example, a seemingly endless stream of chicken gizzards.

I recall some flap in the last few years about a state-level regulatory change that would have effectively banned something that's required for kosher food, but I don't remember the details, just that there was outrage among the obvious communities. I think it had something to do with the method of slaughter, though, rather than later preparation.

I think where you mainly get the mixed-up offal going into the rendering plant is in chicken and catfish, where vacuum eviscerators are used to gut the animals and obviously these exert so much force they tend to cause the problems you mention with contamination and shredding the organs. I am pretty sure the guts are handled more carefully in the beef industry. I've never spoken to anyone about pork (though that's obviously not kosher/halal anyway).

I think for the last century the industry has been generally honest about things like not using organ meat in hamburger. That's not to say they're totally honest; the same plant that I mentioned later lost its contract for injecting too much water into the meat to bulk it up. Ah, America.

As for the salaries, the cost of living is simply very great over here. I'd be a comparatively rich man if I could move to some of the places I've visited and keep my US salary. But in the US housing costs are astronomical compared to much of the world; a minimally zoning-compliant shack can run US$35,000 to US$100,000 or more depending on where it's located. Most Americans take decades to pay for their dwellings, and you don't have the option to just go outside of town and build a shack out of pallet boards because most states have statewide zoning requirements now and the government will come along with a bulldozer and knock it down.

Public transit is nonexistent so a personal car is usually a necessity rather than a luxury, and there are income, sales, and other taxes that grind down your purchasing power. That's not to mention things like health care -- I once paid USD$150 for a single bottle of codeine-based cough syrup, between the mandatory doctor's office visit and all the paperwork involved.

But having visited Mexico, Trinidad, and Panama in recent years, I have to say I don't think all that money we spend gives us that much better a standard of living. It's just that we can't seem to imagine doing it any other way, and so we have boxed ourselves in with laws that rule out any other way.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Probably the issue with kosher slaughter... (2.50 / 2) (#37)
by Alannon on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:21:19 PM EST

I'm betting the issue with kosher slaughter was to do with a humane slaughter law that was going to be enacted. Kosher slaughter requires that the killing method is the cutting of the jugular vein which, while fairly painless, takes a relatively long time to kill the animal compared to, for example, a bolt to the brain. Banning the practice would effectively outlaw kosher meat. I don't know what the slaughter requirements for halal meat is, but I figure they're very similar. In fact, in the community that I live in, one of the only kosher butchers is primarily a halal butcher.

[ Parent ]
Thanks, I'm pretty sure you are right (none / 1) (#41)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:50:55 PM EST

That does sound very familiar. I guess that would also mean most factory-processed meat isn't kosher, though there might be some splitting of hairs on what the killing machines do in chicken and fish plants (generally automatic beheading).

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
injecting water. (3.00 / 2) (#57)
by Anonymous Hiro on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 11:52:41 AM EST

Injecting water is bad. But injecting other meats is even worse!


Think what the Hindus thought about the case where beef protein was injected into chicken fillets! Or the Muslims/Jews in the pig protein case... Imagine if some vegan activist used GM tech and secretly inserted pig and beef genes into various animals, and then announced it later.

Even if people think religious objections are silly, I still believe that it is a very BAD idea to treat food like fuel, which appears to be what's happening in many countries. That's asking for trouble. When you do that, it's down the slippery slope to plenty of bad or even evil stuff. Lack of respect for something often leads to it being treated with contempt or worse.

[ Parent ]

I agree (3.00 / 2) (#58)
by localroger on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 12:50:12 PM EST

Although the excuse for injecting saline is that it "tenderizes" the meat, in reality it's just an excuse to sell salt water for the price of meat.

I'm not locally aware of anyone doing mixed-meat injection, but I do know of a catfish plant where they grind up the odd scraps of catfish (not from the floor, but leftovers from portioning that aren't big enough to use) and they inject them into other catfish. That seems OK to me since it's the same kind of meat and it's not selling you water for the price of meat.

Further down in another thread I mention that food I've had that never went through this kind of processing is noticeably better (to me), even though I've been raised on Western processed product. Eating may just be a way to continue living for some, but if you have to do it anyway why not at least do it well?

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

False economies of scale? (2.50 / 2) (#64)
by Anonymous Hiro on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 10:45:46 PM EST

Doesn't that mean there's a false economy of scale here?

As you mentioned people can even taste the difference. If food ends up lower quality, then it's cheaper because it's lower quality, not because of "economies of scale".

If fish are being injected with scraps of other fish and being sold as a whole fish. That's not acceptable. We typically eat the fish intact here (with heads, fins, tails). It'll look pretty dubious - esp if you're going to steam the fish - the texture will be different.

While I don't really have a big bone to pick with processed food (I eat century eggs, tofu, sausages, cheese etc), it's silly for consumers to be glad/satisfied that chickens are cheap when the final product is deviating from "chicken".

Maybe the factories aren't doing anything illegal - but that's probably the relevant lines haven't been drawn yet.

I'm saying they should be drawn. Otherwise that's like not making a big distinction between plywood/chipboard furniture and "real" wooden furniture.

One mustn't forget quality. The big food/agriculture lobbies often do comparisons purely based on price/cost (e.g. you're subsidizing the same product). e.g. Japanese rice vs US "japanese-style" rice. It's not the same, it doesn't taste the same.

Have you compared a "Fuji" apple from China and the real thing from Japan? They are so different! The former taste not much better than an average apple, main difference is its larger.

I suspect the Japanese growers bother to ensure that their crops are on single fruit spurs (e.g. hand thinning) for high quality, whereas the Chinese growers don't really bother and just go for quantity and low price.

One could say trade barriers are bad and make stuff more expensive, but sometimes the masses just don't know what they are missing, and if the high quality stuff vanishes it may be hard to get it again (hand thinning is skilled labour intensive and thus expensive).

If the masses stop bothering about their food, then I doubt they will be treated much better than their livestock in the long run.

[ Parent ]

Springdale, Arkansas and Tyson's Chicken? (2.20 / 5) (#28)
by nlscb on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:28:55 PM EST

I was personally involved at one Plant where the processing machines at the heart of twelve Lines -- more than eight million dollars worth of equipment -- were swapped out and the Lines rebuilt around the replacements during a single long 72-hour weekend. This required refiguring all the conveyors, all the usual installation hassles of brand new machines of that complexity, new electrical connections, some other smaller new systems (including one of mine) put in at the same time with their own handling considerations.

Does this explain these two diary entries (1 2)? Which I must say I quite appreciated since they allowed me to impress quite the cutie who came from the area.

Great Story.

Comment Search has returned - Like a beaten wife, I am pathetically grateful. - mr strange

Partly (2.33 / 3) (#30)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 01:45:05 PM EST

I was in Springdale for a Tyson job (I still say the town should be named Tyson, Arkansas), but it wasn't the job with the 12 lines. That, in fact, was a catfish processing plant (and if you know the industry, I just gave away which one).

In fact, if you remember Letter to the Delta, that was a precursor trip to the big job. It was in Mississippi, though, a bit closer to home.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

It will be over soon, for both (1.00 / 7) (#35)
by Sen on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 03:30:13 PM EST

Both animals, the human and the pig, won't have to deal with it soon. A cyberthalamus would probably get by on perhaps some deuterium, of which there is plenty in the ocean. Not much mess, and certainly you wouldn't need to bother another sentient (or kill one as it is).

Only one problem.. (2.25 / 4) (#38)
by sudog on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:22:30 PM EST

..this didn't give me a glimpse into processing plants which made me want to quit eating whatever it is they processed. In other words, there's no need for that initial hook, because it was a let-down compared to the nasty pictures and horror stories the PETA-freaks want us to believe. You set us up for something.. yuck.. and give us instead a human community with a rigidly-enforced social structure.

It's all presented in such a way as to make the whole place seem sympathetic--or even perhaps sanitary--to your audience, and your final conclusion is confused and indirect.

Those are my feelings about it. /nt (1.00 / 2) (#40)
by localroger on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 07:48:35 PM EST

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
Perhaps (none / 1) (#47)
by ZorbaTHut on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 04:08:18 AM EST

he wasn't trying to turn people into vegetarians?

[ Parent ]
Then why... (none / 1) (#49)
by sudog on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 05:01:29 AM EST

...did he imply we might not enjoy our meal if we read his article before chowing down?

[ Parent ]
Because (2.00 / 2) (#51)
by ZorbaTHut on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 06:58:42 AM EST

he was talking about the sanitary conditions in meat processing plants? :)

It seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to me. Just because the conditions are legally and practically fine doesn't mean they'll be really enjoyable for people to read about.

If he's trying to convert people into vegetarians, what's with "It was still a whole month before I could make myself eat another hamburger"?

[ Parent ]

.. right, sanitary conditions in a negative light. (2.50 / 2) (#61)
by sudog on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 01:33:07 PM EST

Whereas, my point was that it didn't sound unsanitary at all, that the cleanup crew did their job with particular zeal (even destroying equipment in the process, costing the plant extra money) and that the entire place is high-tech with powerful and effective refrigeration?

Anyway I never stated that he was trying to turn people into vegetarians. I'm just saying that his initial hook led to an anticlimatic "where's the beef?" conclusion. You're the one who brought up vegetarianism.

[ Parent ]

localroger (2.00 / 2) (#44)
by flippy on Tue Oct 26, 2004 at 10:52:36 PM EST

Please quit posting these stories.  I have to get some work done ;)


ugh... localroger... (1.00 / 6) (#45)
by the ghost of rmg on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 12:14:15 AM EST

well, i would have trolled your article into the ground, but i remembered i'm not supposed to be trolling anymore, so i didn't. what luck!

rmg: comments better than yours.
Interesting reading anyways (none / 1) (#46)
by zapb42 on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 01:48:50 AM EST

Like your previous article, this is fascinating reading. I see why some people have some issue with the way you have presented your experiences, but I think you are merely portraying your own honest perception of your experiences like I or anyone else has to do when relating such a story.

Plant Hierarchies (2.83 / 6) (#56)
by pyro9 on Wed Oct 27, 2004 at 11:50:36 AM EST

I think a lot of people here would be truly amazed at the social structure of most plants in the U.S.

I did temp work in a few about a zillion years ago while in school. Much of it is work that could be done by machines, but sadly, workers at or near minimum wage are cheaper.

The social structures are dysfunctional to say the least, both from a purely human standpoint, and from a productivity standpoint. The structure of it is pretty much as Localroger states here, the trappings of status are bizarre.

One place made video tapes (you would certainly recognize the name). The room was filled with identical lines. On one end, boxes of individually packaged tapes were brought in on pallets. One person would be responsable for bringing the pallets in using a human powered hydraulic pallet jack, open boxes filled with the tapes, and line them up. Two people would insert 3 or 5 of the tapes into a shrinkwrap tube and slide them onto a conveyer. They would go through a gas powered oven to shrink the tubes.

On the other side, I was to place the bricks into boxes, tape them, stack them up on a pallet, and when it was full, use a similar pallet jack to take them into the warehouse. I had about 30seconds to accomplish that before the tapes backed up into the oven and started melting.

They did have fast efficient electric pallet jacks as well, but those were used exclusively by the supervisors. They never actually carried a pallet with them, they just stood on them and rode them around the floor making sure nobody took a break. The front office was, indeed, offlimits. When I reported the first day, nobody told me where to enter, so I went in through the front door. Nobody said much about it (other than pointing out where I should enter), but it was clear that it 'just isn't done'.

BTW, my job was preferable to the guy who unboxed tapes because I didn't have to tape my hands up to prevent blisters from pulling boxes open all day.

Thankfully, that experiance was very brief, and I knew at the time that I would likely never have to take such a job again. Some people have little hope of leaving that work environment.

I don't regret the experiance one bit. It was very educational all around,. It puts a lot of perspective on things when I read/hear various spewings from economists and politicians who never have and never will have to work that sort of job.

The future isn't what it used to be
+1fp; commie vegetarian propaganda. (2.50 / 2) (#66)
by waxmop on Thu Oct 28, 2004 at 05:04:06 PM EST

I visited a plant where workers had 24 minutes to get from the floor, eat lunch, and get back to the floor. Management wouldn't change it without other concessions elsewhere.

I asked why they didn't just offer a longer lunch along with a longer shift length, but I just got a look that meant either I didn't know my place, or I just didn't grasp the situation.
Limberger is the angeldust of cheese.

Meatpacking - most dangerous factory job in US (none / 0) (#67)
by gyan on Tue Jan 25, 2005 at 11:44:34 PM EST

"Workers in the U.S. meat and poultry industry endure unnecessarily hazardous work conditions, and the companies employing them often use illegal tactics to crush union organizing efforts, Human Rights Watch said in Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants".


Food Plant | 67 comments (61 topical, 6 editorial, 2 hidden)
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