#3 The Wholesome, Local Vermont Farm

Since my last blog post where I outlined my three potential topics and included an interview that highlighted the importance of one of them, I have been able to narrow my focus down to one topic.  I’m not planning to investigate environmental issues further seeing as it seems to be a popular topic among What’s the Story students and I don’t have a specific direction that I would want to take my investigations. The topic that I most thoroughly explored in last week’s blog post and conducted my interviews around was disassociative identity disorder.  I am still eager to learn more and I believe that this is a severely under-researched topic, so I have decided to use that topic as the focus for a Whats-the-story-esque year-long project for another class. This brings me to my chosen topic of investigation: working conditions on factory farms.

I have noticed that factory farms are being discussed more and more, yet the typical angle is one of animal cruelty or the health of consumers. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are seldom discussed as workplaces by activists. From a typical animal rights perspective, the workers are seen as the inflictors of cruelty, not fellow victims of the system alongside the animals.

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation described these working conditions by saying:

It’s always been a dangerous job. But up until recently, this was a job that had good pay, had good benefits, and you had a very stable work force. In the early 1970s, meatpacking had one of the lowest turnover rates of any industrial job in America.[…]Then they cut wages, they cut benefits, broke unions. And now it has one of the highest turnover rates of any industrial job.

To illustrate this situation further: a slaughterhouse worker (from an unnamed American slaughterhouse), interviewed in the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows  says:

“Nobody helped train me no training how to use knife… so you see how the people on either side of you do the work and then you do it”

In America, it is common to have little to no training, dangerously fast production lines in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, low pay, few benefits and a pretty high-stress violent job. However, maybe Vermont isn’t on the same level as the rest of America. Maybe the situation is better here. Yet the fact that consumers will so readily buy into the idea of the “wholesome, local, Vermont farm” means it becomes very dangerous to assume that this is the case.

Agricultural investigator Gail Eisnitz interviewed a slaughterhouse worker who told her:

 The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. if you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, ‘God, that really isn’y a bad-looking animal.’ You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later, I had to kill them beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.

This desensitization to killing causes a buildup of psychological distress. When the pressure builds up, workers often take it out on the animals, responding to the violence and stress of their job by putting more violence and stress back into the system. When activists attempting to expose the horrors of factory farming and industrial slaughter they are often met with disbelief or skepticism. How is it efficient for the business that the level of torture and gore inflicted on farm animals takes place? Isn’t it far easier to bleed and butcher a dead animal than a living, kicking, screaming one? There are pieces of information that consumers are unaware of when they think about these industries.  One of these missing pieces is the psychological states the workers find themselves in. Discussions of the workers in these facilities easily lend themselves to conversations about the treatment of animals.

Another worker told Eisnitz:

ive taken out my job pressure and frustration on the animals…. there was a live hog in the pit. It hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t even running around the pit. It was just alive. I took a three-foot chunk of pipe and I literally beat that hog to death. Couldn’t have been a two-inch piece of solid bone left in its head. Basically, if you want to put it in layman’s terms, I crushed his skull. It was like I started hitting the hog and couldn’t stop. And when I finally did stop, I’d expended all this energy and frustration, and I’m thinking, what in  God’s sweet name did I do?

Evidence suggests that these behaviors transcend the workplace and affect workers constantly in their daily lives

One worker explained:

Most stickers have been arrested forassault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing live, kicking animals all day long… A lot of guys…just drink and drug their problems away. Some of them end up abusing their spouses because they can’t get rid of the feelings.

If these are common problems in the American farm then what about the Vermont farm? While Vermonters may be more accustomed to seeing farms as part of the everyday scenery what goes on inside some of the animal agriculture buildings is still a mystery to most local consumers. It is a mystery that consumers don’t care to solve because there is an easier alternative presented to them: buy into the wholesomeness of the Vermont farm image.  However, I believe that given what has been uncovered regarding factory farms across America, the Vermont farm should be examined as well.

 

Kati Tolgyesi

4 Responses to “#3 The Wholesome, Local Vermont Farm

  • Hi Kati!

    I just wanted to say hi, and let you know how excited I am to see another student interested in Animal Cruelty after a year of working alone! I loved hearing your perspective at the conference this past weekend, and can’t wait to talk more!

    Best,
    Lena

  • Wow, it looks like you are well on your way to researching this topic. The sources that you referenced are great starting points, and the quotes that you pulled are powerful. Your writing, as well, is very affecting. I especially love this line: “It is a mystery that consumers don’t care to solve because there is an easier alternative presented to them: buy into the wholesomeness of the Vermont farm image.”

    As far as the video itself goes, I am so interested in your thoughts about how to tell this story. An obvious but very difficult way would be to get some footage of what actually goes on behind the scenes. This may not be a realistic option though.

    Could the story be told purely through interviews? I think it could, especially if you encountered some good storytellers who are willing to share.

    Another possibility is that you find one or more farms where they are actually doing things in a more humane fashion. In which case they may welcome the cameras and you could contrast that with some of the more jarring coverage that’s already out there.

    Looking forward to reading your next post!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your feedback with me! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

      As for the logistics of a documentary, I think each of the filming possibilities you mentioned could work and have a great impact. My next step is to dig into the resources available locally and I think through that process it will become clearer which angle I should take when documenting this issue.

      I appreciate your responses and look forward to hearing more from you,

  • Thanks so much for sharing your feedback with me! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

    As for the logistics of a documentary, I think each of the filming possibilities you mentioned could work and have a great impact. My next step is to dig into the resources available locally and I think through that process it will become clearer which angle I should take when documenting this issue.

    I appreciate your responses and look forward to hearing more from you,

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