Are you squeemish about preparing food? Hate to touch raw meat, eggs or dirty produce? My advice to you is GET OVER IT.
That was harsh, I know. But few things drive me crazier than learning that more and more, many people are becoming downright phobic about becoming intimate with their food and how it arrived on their plate. As far as I am concerned, that is the kind of behavior that signals you and your progeny-- assuming you are willing to get dirty enough to invite progeny--are earmarked for being removed from the gene-pool. Because knowing how to get food is a major skill between us, as a species, and extinction.
I have always been amused by the Star Trek geekified version of getting food. You push a button or voice your order, a little door slides open and Bing! There's your hot meal, downloaded out of thin air. Maybe that's an infantile fantasy that hearkens back to the womb: We float in an ocean of ignorance and the food arrives via invisible umbilical cord into our systems, without needing to know the source. Only in the Star Trek fantasy, Science is the ultimate Mom, who does the dishes too. (Note: And yes, I am a fan of Star Trek).
But real food comes from real plants, real animals, and arrives via the effort and knowledge of real people. And as our society begins to disassemble and reassemble, it behooves us to be curious about the food we eat and where it comes from.
I am preaching to the choir if you are already a "foodie". But if you want to be entertained, enlightened and occasionally appalled, I recommend you tune in to the Discovery channel tv program called "Dirty Jobs", where the affable host Mike Rowe travels far and wide to be immersed and trained in the world's dirtiest jobs. And many of those jobs involve the production of food.
It's downright fascinating to see how these jobs get done, and Mike Rowe has the sheer moxie and amazing willingness to interview the laborer and be instructed on how to do it himself. The key is, the jobs are dirty, unpleasant, often dangerous and filthy. The show's premise answers the question, "What would it be like to be a sewage plant worker, a pest exterminator, a plumber, a mud driller, a junk yard worker, a tire re-treader...?
More to the point here, many of the dirtiest jobs have been food related: An incomplete list of the dirty jobs profiled on the program involving food would be: goat farmer, salmon carcass counter, mushroom farmer, wine maker, salt miner, turkey farmer, seaweed harvester, sausage maker, pig farmer, chick sexer.... and the show I saw last night that prompted this post: lamb castrator.
Many of these tasks make me shudder. I am not immune to the Ick reaction, far from it. However I feel it is part of my responsibility as a citizen to understand how the industrialization of food production has changed the nature of work and our relationship to animals and the land. "Dirty Jobs" gives us a rare, unsanitized glimpse into that world and removes the glamorous curtain so that we can decide just how and why we might want to change things.
Example: The show where Mike Rowe was trained to be a chick sexer bothered me. A chick sexer picks up a little chick (baby chicken), observes whether it is male or female, then tosses it into the appropriate bin for life as an egg layer or not. I can't recall what happened to the boy chicks, if they were raised for meat or simply killed. But what distressed me was the completely detached treatment of these living beings, as they were tossed like a bit of fluff or a beanbag into their allotted bin. The image of Tribbles (again on Star Trek) comes to mind. The sheer volume of animals being "processed" demanded this kind of detached insensitivity.
In another show, the same attitude prevailed as Mike Rowe was taught to grab a farmed fish, jab it with a hypodermic needle full of vaccination so it could survive the diseases that proliferate in the close quarters of such an operation, and again toss it aside as if it were an inanimate object.
I'm not saying we need to treat farm animals like Bambi, give them cute names, hold hands and sing Kumbaya before sending them to the abattoir. But something is wrong when sentient beings are treated like inanimate objects. It requires a kind of detachment that I consider inhumane to both the animals involved, and the workers.
Last night my husband, son and I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination while Mike was taught to castrate very young lambs, and bob their tails and the end of an ear, all without any concern for pain management of the poor critters. Mike even used his teeth as part of the castration process. I won't go into too much detail here but this was one of those times where he clearly had to override his own reluctance and distaste to get through the "training" process as instructed. He was grossed out, and let the viewer know.
The voice-over narration reassured the viewers that this is how it has been done for centuries and is the quickest and least painful way to castrate the lambs. But I wondered... Says who? What if this were a small family farm? How do rural communities elsewhere handle their livestock? To be fair, at least the sheep farmers ate the "fries" (fried testicles) which is the least they can do.
I greatly admire Mike Rowe. Not only is he incredibly gracious, willing and brave, but he is a very funny and humble man. His blog makes for fascinating reading on the topic of work and society in general.
Despite the sometimes appalling work conditions and practices of industrial farming, I also have respect for the people who labor there. Much like a soldier in the armed forces, they work under conditions many of us refuse to acknowledge or appreciate on a daily basis, often powerless to change their own circumstances and doing what society demands yet also scorns. That's not fair. And while we work to change those conditions into something much more equitable and respectful, we at least owe them our attention long enough to try to understand their life and perspective.
So I commend to you "Dirty Jobs". Watch it on the Discovery channel or look in your local library or buy the episodes on Amazon. You'll never look at a shrink wrapped, styrofoam plated, box of mushrooms or chicken thighs the same way again.