Monday, July 9, 2012

We Must Do Better

Today I saw the most disturbing thing I've seen in a long time. I didn't even go inside, investigate further or film it. I had to leave before I threw up. All I did was make a wrong turn and there it was. The abuse. The waste. The stench. About a mile of it.

I was on the road that leads to the back of the chicken plant. El Pollero as the amigos call it. The water treatment facility. Where hundreds of thousands of gallons of clean water are pumped inside to wash away the ills of factory chicken processing. It then comes out very brown and very stinky out of several pipes and goes into the ground and goes away magically into our ground water and eventually our streams and into your drinking water. You're gonna need a bigger Brita.

We've all heard it. We've all talked about how 'disgusting' it is and we all try to do better by talking about organic or becoming vegetarian (very tempting if I wasn't raising my own birds), but how many of us have seen it? I hear the stories from workers around here (this town is headquarters) and know the drill on factory farming and see the stats--- I had to look no further to decide to grow my own banana eatin', $1/lb feed snackin', salmon skin and seaweed lovin, grass dining worm digging hens. But I eat them. My loved ones eat them. And a few select customers buy them. And they are expensive.

But too much of the world is eating the other way. But once it's breaded and fried and salted and repackaged and in a drive thru window at ChikFilCrack you snarf it down and go about your business don't you. And the $5 roti bird at the Supermarket? yea. Okay fine, that's your choice, and it probably won't give you breast cancer from eating all the hormones for at least 10 years. But the level of toxic output from that ONE plant on that ONE street in nowhere town USA where I live (you're not going to find one of those in San Fran or Brooklyn or Atlanta where people would go ballistic at such outrage) is mammoth. Never mind Gainesville's output. Reportedly 7million birds a day. Takes up an entire exit off the interstate and miles of real estate.

No let's just talk about this one side street. Where by the way, there are PEOPLE LIVING IN HOUSES. Children playing outside. Lives being led. And the most fetid air I've ever smelled. For blocks. I live 3 miles away up a hill and I've smelled remnants of this. There are days when the fertilizer trucks roll up the mountain after scooping up tons of chicken manure from the droves of company owned chicken houses dotted around my pretty little town and the smell doesn't blow out by noon. It makes me mad because my chickens (I have 60) have no smell at all and I still get that barnyard funk coming over the hill if the wind is right. My chickens are on the move eating grass and roosting in trees and their bottomless chicken tractor parked on pasture. But I don't want to talk about my sensitive nose or the welfare of the poor chickens which most of us bleeding heart, tree hugging organic proponents do. These chickens are slaughtered and stuck on a bun somewhere at 4-6 weeks. Yea, my naturally grown birds are not even a pound at that age. But my point is, the chickens suffer-- but not for long.

But here's what's troubling. There are also people working INSIDE those buildings. And why I have so many Guatemalan customers of Pollos del Rancho (ranch chickens) because they would NEVER eat a chicken from inside the factory. They won't even buy my white chickens so strong is the connection to the CornishX at the plant. But there's American folk working there too. It's mainly Africans, Laotians and Hispanics to be real.  Because well, they don't cause trouble. They are probably not aware of the ACLU. Or the ill effects of working in a toxic environment. Or how to file a lawsuit for medical damages.

My little convenient store gal Heather's hubby works at that very water treatment plant, she just told me. I was shocked and sad for them but she was happy that he just got 'took on full time' and is now making $13/hr. He was part time at $10.50. Before taxes. And this entails checking the water every hour to make sure the chemical levels don't change (because there is an "acceptable" govt level for dumping toxic substance apparently) and because this is also next to the "rendering" plant where they put all the nasty bits and butts to make Purina dog chow and a zillion other animal products...there are some chunks that eventually clog the system. Tons of chunks. Fat. Entrails. Feces.

Go ahead. Catch your breath. I'll wait. I'm still blowing my nose just from driving by. And my eyes itch and my face burns. From all the chlorine.

So anyway, Heather says that when that gets clogged (this gigantic drain in the sewer) her man Justin has to go DOWN IN IT with his team and get out the offending chunks. I used to think the guy who sucked out the greasetrap at my restaurant had a crummy job. She makes him strip before he comes inside and they have an outdoor shower rigged up. But sometimes when he sweats on days off she said she can smell it. He's been there 6 mos and they think it's good to have work and plus he gets medical bennies and her too. For $160/mo they get their very own Chicken Factory Doctor with their Chicken Factory Insurance. And it's right next door to---you guessed it, the Chicken Factory. $15 co-pay. Pills $4 at WalMart. Notice I'm not putting the name of the Chicken Factory out there because I can envision lots of powerful lobbyists and pay off money in small town govt good ol boy back patting mafia make that Erin Brokovich lady at the hacienda shut up happening. So you didn't hear it from me.

But here's the thing. Even though you may have found your local Whole Foods warm and fuzzy spot for your tofurkey and your fave bistro is serving Barney's Farmstead Prosciutto or whatever this is a terrible situation. Forget worker conditions abroad for a second. I mean, not that you'd EVER do without your smart phone or anything and China is SO far...

But listen, right here in the USA we employ tens of thousands of people ---those without much education or hope for the future to basically poison the rest of us. Doing really hard work. That sucks. For a low wage. It is an economy but we can do better. This is just perpetuating the cycle of poverty. It's very Upton Sinclair. We have to do better. We'll run out of water most definitely just in processing alone. This is completely unsustainable. And I'm not just using that as a bullshit trendy buzzword. It means you'll RUN OUT OF THE RESOURCE.

As you sit at home picking out a Prius color and drinking organic chardonnay this is STILL HAPPENING. And it is affecting all of us. You're maybe not eating it and thankfully you don't LIVE there right? But PEOPLE do. Human beings. Working third shift Midnight-8am for $13/hr. Jacking their circadian clocks and spending lots of time with toxic fumes getting sick most certainly. But don't worry, we've got our own doctor. Shhhhh. And most don't speak English anyway, so who's gonna talk? The marginalized, the fearful, the illegal? And for what? So the big corporate dude can sell those dirty sick birds at the grocery store and the fast food chain and in the box in the shape of a dinosaur for your kids??

Look, we have to change this. Stop having denial fantasies that the chicken at the chain restaurant or on your bun or your kids school isn't coming out of these factories. Or that because you are part of the smart foodie club that this won't affect you. We all breathe the air, and bathe in that city water. Demand cleaner practices from these companies. Make them stop wasting all of our state's resources. Stop eating the damned cheap bird. And pork. And beef. And demand that it stops being MADE. Demand that they clean up their act and spend some of their billions on better farming practice and giving the workers better wages and less dangerous and disgusting jobs. And stop stinking up the town. And oh, stop making trash into kibble and selling it to us as food for the pets we love. (why Brady is on raw meaty bones and grain free)

To find a farmer and pasture based farm near you go here. I'm going here tomorrow to get my soy free organic chicken feed and 30# of heirloom tomatoes and they have a CSA and a farm market and cowpooling and just a really great philosophy on respecting the land and our animals and each other. A breath of fresh air.