I used to worry more about automation. Where humans were John Henry and robots represented the steam engine, I envisioned an end-of-days scenario that played out like a man holding a hammer having just been beat by a locomotive. The symbolism in this story is that computers, the ever-present sidekick in the process of mechanization, are all too often taking the wheel in slow but steady ways. I look around and see Red Box, a computerized kiosk that provides movie goers with DVDs to take home for a night or two. There is no human there, simply an invisible hand that helps paying customers reach their dream of autonomous consumption.
By autonomous, I mean the person who wants to buy something does not need to interact with a human interface. Rather, one can simply press a series of buttons to get the prize. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime are much the same way, providing online streaming and/or physical copies of TV entertainment in exchange for a fee. You do not even have to leave your home, let alone say hello to another person. You’d think we were all extinct. To some people all this mechanized labor translates into a good thing: convenience, autonomy, and faster service. To others, it means you are out of a job. How people are affected by computerization will inform their impression of technology, good or bad.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s my mother was a bookkeeper. This is one profession that has largely disappeared due to computers. Sure, there’s still someone who calls in asking for hours so we all get paychecks, but the proprietary software one could order off Amazon provides a more than adequate stand-in for an accountant. The formulas that extract income tax, exact wages, calculate FICA tax, are all standard features, and are arguably more accurate than any human hand.
Another job that has gone missing thanks to computers is the meat laborer. Although the centralized system that the FDA allows permits computerized factories to act like farms, this is not unlike the robots taking away your mothers’ jobs.
If you follow the food chain back from those shrink-wrapped packages of meat, you find a very different reality. The reality is a factory. It's not a farm. It's a factory. That meat is being processed by huge multinational corporations that have very little to do with ranches and farmers. Now your food is coming from enormous assembly lines...You've got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system. ("Food, Inc.," n.d.)
"In the 1970s, the top five beef-packers controlled only about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market" ("Food, Inc.," n.d.). The engineers in the factory farming industry deal with problems so the consumer does not have to deal with them. Eldon Roth explains how he remotely controls all of his meat packing plants from a single location. Although this demonstrates the modern convenience of computer technology, it also illustrates how through the process of mass production certain important details are overlooked. Eldon Roth says,
This is our operations center. We control all of our plants from here. Where's Chicago? Here's Chicago, Georgia, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, L.A., Ohio. We control all levels of the gearboxes, the speed of motors--we can change those all from here. We built something that--from a food-safety standpoint, we think we're ahead of everybody. We think we can lessen the incidents of E. coli 0157:h7. But I just started working with ammonia and ammonia hydroxide. Ammonia kills bacteria, so it became a processing tool. I'm really a mechanic. That's really what I am. We design our own machinery. ("Food, Inc.," n.d.)
The USDA signed off on the procedure of bathing beef in ammonia in order to clean it. Although I don’t think there would be a better way to clean laundry, this method for ridding red meat of impurities seems lie a sanctioned way of permitting poison into the food chain. Many people may have never heard of Eldon Roth, but may know him for his invention of finely textured beef, otherwise known as pink slime. The media coverage of this led to bans in school lunch menus and a public backlash that nearly dissolved Roth’s livelihood (Campbell & Gruley, 2012). This is one of the major setbacks of factory farming: it has to deal with the problem of feeding massive amounts of people. When you have cows who eat corn, this produces E coli in their gut (“Food, Inc.,” n.d.). As a result, when they are sent to be slaughtered, their hides are covered in waste, so the E coli gets washed into the meat (“Food, Inc.,” n.d.).
Why can’t we just feed the cows grass instead of corn, you ask? Two reasons prevent our break from corn: the federal government subsidizes farmers for growing corn. They have so much corn they feed it to the cows. It’s an easy solution for them. They’re getting paid to feed their livestock. Also, corn fattens up cows. It is a carbohydrate that is rich in empty calories. What it does is boost your blood sugar levels over a short period of time. The unused calories get stored as fat. Then the body crashes and craves more corn. The more corn you eat, the more weight you gain. Corn is just a cheap and simple way to fatten up the food supply, and computer farming helps, in its own way, by filling massive demands for the world’s consumption of meat. We shall see how future legislation and regulation will change the way factory farming works. Who knows? Maybe the federal government will subsidize grass, and we’ll start seeing more grass-fed beef. Or the more likely outcome will come about through consumer demands for change through boycott and selective consumption.
Campbell, E. and Gruley, B. 2012. The Sliming of Pink Slime’s Creator. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2012-04-12/the-sliming-of-pink-slimes-creator
Food, Inc. Script – Dialogue Transcript. n.d. Retrieved from http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/f/food-inc-script-transcript.html