Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review

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[Email address]
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ANTH 3330
S. Metress
ANTH 3330
S. Metress
Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review
Michael Farhoud
Slaughterhouse Blues: Book Review
Michael Farhoud

In Slaughterhouse Blues, anthropologist Donald Stull and social geographer Michael Broadway explore the advent, history, and implications of modern food production. The industrialized system behind what we eat is one of the most controversial points of political interest in our society today. Progressions in productive, logistical, retail, and even biological technologies have made mass produced foods more available and more affordable than ever before. This being said, the vague mass production of ever-available cheap “food” carries with it several hidden costs that the consumer is left to be blatantly unaware of. These costs, namely stress and abuse of the environment, diminished regard for animal welfare, the glorification and prevalence of diets full of sugar and fat, and an increased susceptibility to the spread and contraction of food-borne and nutritional illnesses. Food is a necessity, on both the level of its physical value to our bodies and the level of its monetary value as a commodity. With this in mind, the question then comes to mind as whether or not “cheaper and quicker” is really better for us if the reduction in time and effort also comes with a reduction in quality. The first chapter in the book discusses the processes behind the birth of industrialized agriculture in North America after the Second World War, with a notable focus on the changing structure and location of beef, pork, and poultry processing. The authors point out that agriculture is currently in the middle of its third revolution. The first revolution was associated with the development of seed agriculture and animal domestication in the form of subsistence farming. The second revolution occurred in Western Europe in the late 1900’s when thriving urban populations created a commercial demand for food, resulting in the increase of production and entrance into the market for the farmers. This systemic practice of growing surplus for the purpose of profit replaced subsistence agriculture. In the early 1900’s, farmers began increasing output and income by investing in machinery and fertilizer (a process known as intensification). Increased output led to increased supply. With so much available, the commodity value of food was decreased and farmers were met with the need to either keep increasing their productivity in order to simply break even or just quit altogether. Faced with this choice, millions of families abandoned farming as both a profession and a lifestyle. Nowadays, with barely any real farmers left in comparison to how many there were, transnational corporations (huge globalized businesses) fill the primary roles of food production. Chapters two presents an overview of the beef cattle production industry. Starting after the end of the civil war, the “Cattle Kingdom” (the roots of today’s beef cattle industry) spread far from its home in South Texas throughout the Great Plains. While this was happening, Chicago’s first slaughterhouse was built in 1827. This led to Chicago becoming “the most important packing center in the country”. The advents of railways and refrigeration triggered a shift in the industry of meatpacking from a local and seasonal business into a year-round and nationwide industry. From there, much like their agricultural counterparts, the people and the companies that founded the meatpacking industry are now replaced by the very same transnational corporations. Meat production produces marginal profit at best, so these corporations make their money by being cost efficient (ie, the bigger and more productive they are, the more they save/make). Poultry production is the focus of chapter three. In the early 20th century, chicken was considered to be the highest level of delicacy because of its scarcity (what was usually...
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