Prevent crippling injuries; eat local chicken

Hand injuryHave you ever had hand pain? Carpel tunnel, tendinitis, arthritis? Or have you known someone – a parent, perhaps – who had always been proud of her independence until an injury or disease took away the use of her hands and left her in constant pain? Could you imagine being unable to lift a fork, dress yourself, or use the bathroom unassisted? Can you imagine if that constant pain was caused by your job, but you knew that if you asked for some kind of accommodation, you’d be fired?

Apparently, the people who pluck, gut, and pack your chickens do.

By way of the Ethicurean, I found the Charlotte Observer’s series “The Cruelest Cuts,” which looks into the working conditions at chicken processing plants. I read one article of this multi-part series, and the sympathy pain in my own hands was so bad I had to stop reading.

The issue, it seems, is repetitive stress. Any repetitive motion – be it assembling a widget or disassembling a chicken – will tend to cause inflammation in the body part making the motion. In the case of poultry workers, it’s their hands. Of the 130 workers interviewed for this series, three-quarters had some kind of serious hand pain. And no wonder; some of them repeat the same motion nearly 20,000 times during every single shift.

So what does this have to do with eating locally? After all, these poultry plants are “local” to folks in the Carolinas and Georgia. Read on for clarification… “Eat locally” as a mantra takes a few things on faith: that local food is also produced on a smaller scale, on happy family farms, produced in old-fashioned ways and sold in mom-and-pop grocery stores. Of course, that’s not all true, but that’s what an awful lot of locavores mean when we say “Eat locally.” Perhaps the better way of putting it is “avoid industrial food systems.”

Much has been made about how factory farms are bad for the cows and pigs and chickens. Sure, we feel sorry for the animals, but for most people who eat meat, we keep a little distance. Yes, we want the chicken to be able to live like a chicken, and it’s sad if it has to live in a cage, but when the choice is “factory chicken” or “no chicken,” it’s fairly easy to downplay or conveniently forget that and order the cordon bleu.

So let me put this in human terms: chicken is $1 per pound because someone making $6.50 an hour pulls the guts out of several hundred chickens every hour, day in and day out, until her hands never stop aching. If she’s lucky, she can switch tasks or get some rest; if she’s not lucky, she’ll be out of a job and unable to lift a McNugget to her lips without burning, searing pain shooting through her hand, wrist, and arm.

This woman should not have to sacrifice her hands so I can eat cheap chicken. It may be a hard change to make, but I think this is the thing that puts me over the edge to not eating any meat of uncertain provenance. Essentially, I’ll have to become vegetarian while eating out, which isn’t easy at some of my favorite restaurants.

If I feel like caving, though, all I have to do is to imagine my hands hurting so much I can’t dig in the garden, stroke my beloved’s face, or write the truth. Would I ask another woman to do that for me so I can have something that sounds tastier?



  1. Ken said,

    February 13, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks for pointing to this, Emily. I so often get overwhelmed trying to keep up with Ethicurean — I’m much better at keeping up with your highlights!

  2. TeacherPatti said,

    February 14, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Is there any local, Michigan chicken that we can buy? I get local beef from the farmer’s market, but I don’t know about chicken….

  3. Emily said,

    February 16, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Patti- I get my chicken from Ernst Farms. I bet there are some at the Eastern Market, too. Also check Local Harvest for other ideas near you. And keep in mind one of the most common ways to get local chicken is to order a number of chickens up front from a grower. They order the chicks, raise them, have the processed, and give them to you whole.

    As far as regular processed grocery store chicken goes, Miller Amish Country chicken is reasonably local and “all natural,” whatever that means, but I don’t know anything about how it’s processed.

  4. Momster said,

    February 16, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Re Toronto: Was that pea-meal bacon??

  5. Emily said,

    February 18, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Momster- Pea meal bacon is smoked pork loin rolled in cornmeal. It used to be rolled in ground yellow split peas, hence “pea-meal.” It’s sliced, grilled, and served on a roll for a classic Toronto-breakfast-at-the-market.

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