On September 12, the webinar "The Humane Hoax Chicken" will take place. Ever since I read Steve Strifler's book "Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food," I've written a report on the perversity of one of the hardest and lowest-paid jobs in America, and the cruel treatment of animals in the poultry industry.
A Chicken’s Breast is Worth More than a Mexican
Chicken feces spread out inside their houses. They died sooner, stayed sick longer, but they do not leave because they came to America following the American dream. When you come from a violent impoverished country, the last thing you lose is hope. They are caught by the attractiveness of non-seasonal jobs, and now the rapidly expanding poultry map in Eastern North Carolina. The book Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food highlights this aspect and is key to understanding the perversity of one of the hardest and lowest-paid jobs in America. It also makes us think about the connection between the sad history of racial discrimination in the South and the neoliberal system which only brings poverty and illnesses to the working communities of people of color.
Professor Steve Strifler focusses on his book not only on the history of how the poultry farms in America transitioned from the horizontal model to the vertical one —impoverishing the farmers who raised the chickens— but also denounces how detrimental the over-processing of the chicken plants is for their workers. Strifler decided to disguise himself as a laborer, becoming a friend of his co-workers —the majority them from Mexico and Central America— and the reader gets to know all about their lives: the harms and ills that poultry plants produce in their bodies and minds, the oppressiveness of the facilities, which ironically is the only location where they have a sense of relative stability. The cruelty of the management cleverly measures and regulates their resting, bathroom time, and water intake.
The author served as the management’s translator too, as the majority of the workers do not speak English. In third world countries, the poultry industry is less harmful to the workers’ bodies because technology is not advanced enough to make the working lines speed up the way they do it here, and the poultry industry is still in a more primitive level. The result of our advanced technology in the poultry plants is not a surprise; almost 10 of the workers get a finger or two cut off per year in each of the plants, and many more get their hands injured. It is not a secret that people of color do not have the same protections given other people. But now, immigrants who came to America, permanently or impermanently, are less protected than ever. Norms and regulations about housing and hours of labor have always existed, but they are easy to fool. Fines can be negotiated easily by the plants.
The precarious situation of the Latino workers is in the process of getting worse with the Trump administration, which is making them more invisible and more discriminated against, “Providing services to immigrants has not been a particularly popular way of spending money in the U.S. Congress, The very same politicians who love to bash immigrants for political purposes quietly facilitate their entry on behalf of corporations who depend on their labor” (p 1445). If this administration is openly more permissive with the harms to the environment and the quality of living for us all, what can we expect for the ones that make only $ 8 per hour under such horrific conditions?
In the long run, consumers also pay because the cheaper the chicken, the more exposure to hormones, chemicals, antibiotics, and over-processing. These millions of chickens loaded with hormones and chemicals will increase the incidence of cancer by contaminating our community drinking, bathing, and fishing waters along with the traditional praying of the fields. At the end of the book, Strifler advocates for a “friendlier chicken” and refers to the free-range chickens as a desirable solution.