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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Evadeus Corpus: Absenting the Referent in the Meat-Industrial Complex

Iowa is the nation's leading pork and egg producer with nearly twenty million hogs and over fifty million egg-laying chickens in confinement. No doubt this accounts for the recent move of the Iowa Legislature to criminalize undercover video documentation of animal abuse in factory farms and to establish serious misdemeanor penalties for activists and whistleblowers who apply for jobs at agricultural facilities intending to expose cruel and inhumane conditions in them. Given his close ties to agricultural interests, it seems unlikely that Governor Terry Branstad will veto the legislation, although activists are trying to put pressure on him to do so. According to the Miami Herald article linked above, similar laws are under consideration in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, and Utah.

"The intent behind the legislation is to put a chilling effect on whistleblowers on factory farms," said Matthew Dominguez, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. "It begs the question of, what exactly does animal agriculture have to hide?" The answer to this question, of course, is: everything.

Feminist-Vegetarian theorist Carol Adams has long insisted that the "meat-industrial complex" relies crucially on the ongoing maintenance of "the absent referent," an ongoing distraction and derangement of attention from animals as sites of engaged consciousness into substance available for consumption, the discursive, institutional, and practical complex of substitutions transforming "corpses" into "meat" -- from the translation of animal bodies named in one part of our lived awareness as cows, chickens, hogs into another part of our experience instead as consumable "beef", "poultry", "pork", to the marginalization of horrific crowding smelling screaming metal and bone and bloodletting nonhuman animal processing plants into concentrated geographies undertaken by precarious mostly minority almost entirely invisible human animal laborers doing some of the most dangerous, most injurious, most stressful, worst paying work in the world.

I have written at length elsewhere about the ways in which exploited human animals enlisted in the work of processing nonhuman animals as food are always also enabling the deep cultural work of maintaining the abject not-quite-subject not-quite-object category of "the being whose suffering is real but does not matter" and in so doing are contributing to the terms of their own racial and patriarchal abjection (to the extent that racist, sexist, infantilist, pathologizing discourses inevitably rely on bestializing discourses in which "the being whose suffering is real but does not matter" promiscuously attaches wherever it is convenient to the purposes of incumbent elites), an abjection indispensable in the narrative that has thrust them into their terrible condition of labor in the first place.

Criminalizing the documentation and exposure of the horrific systematic abuse of nonhuman animals required to process sensitive living beings into consumable meat products also inevitably criminalizes and undermines the no less necessary documentation and exposure of the conditions of systematic exploitation and abuse of the human animals undertaking the labor of this processing in ways that should alarm labor and human rights activists. And to my mind it is crucial to realize that pointing out this fact is not to propose a distraction from the politics of animal welfare onto issues of human welfare, but to highlight the essential continuity of these politics. All human rights are already animal rights because humans are animals, and the realization that human animals differ from nonhuman animals no more threatens that identification than the realization that all nonhuman animals differ from one another as well. Awareness of intersections is quite as indispensable to effective politics as sensitivity to differences that make a difference: the persecution and prosecution of truth-tellers and whistle-blowers to the surreal violence of the meat-industrial complex enabled by the legislative elaboration of the "absent referent" is an effort to orchestrate the visible and the invisible, the possible and the important, to disable connections we might otherwise make, to render us indifferent to differences that might make a difference in the way we treat our companionable animal peers, human and nonhuman, the better to erect those brutalizing Master Differences (human/animal; man/woman; native/outsider) on which so much parochially profitable exploitation depends.


jollyspaniard said...

I spent most of a semester eating hot dogs my first year at uni. In some twisted form of karmic payback I got a summer job working in the meat packing plant that made those hot dogs. It was a real eye opener and I've never bought hot dogs again. I'd offer to tell my friends what went on in that place but most told me they simply didn't want to know.

I will buy chorizo Iberico on ocassion. They're made from free range hogs fed a very good diet of nuts and berries. And apart from that I get squid and octopus prepared Galician style.

I'm really curious to try insects as I hear they basically taste of prawns which I love. They're not available in any of the local shops though and I'm not keen on cultivating them.

jimf said...

> I'm really curious to try insects as I hear they
> basically taste of prawns which I love.

Well, just don't try any of **these** insects (whether or
not you like lobsters):