"Useless eaters"

April 4th, 2009 10:25 am by Kelly Garbato

While compiling my final post about the intersections of misogyny and speciesism – which are evident in Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals – I stumbled upon this memorable exchange, in the chapter on chickens. It doesn’t quite fit with the post I’m writing, but it’s such a powerful piece that I’d like to share it anyway.

In addition to highlighting another type of intersection, it also helps to illustrate how similar processes are at play in the animalization of humans and the objectification of animals (both humans and non).

I had wanted to see how broiler chickens are raised commercially for some time. Not easy to do. Such places are off-limits to the general public. Chicken suppliers do not want people to know the intimate details of how their cheap chicken comes to the dinner table. Recently, though, Tony – a friend of a friend of a friend – said he would let me visit his chicken farm, as long as I did not identify him with a last name or say exactly where the farm was. A few weeks ago, I drove to Tony’s. He took me to four shed-like barns secluded behind giant cypress shrubs, well out of view of the public.

“We are expected to keep them out of sight,” he said. […]

As I walked in, I was almost blinded by the sight of 25,000 pure white chickens, packed up right against one another as far as my eyes could see. […]

Every day, Tony explained, he walks through this stiflingly packed room and picks up the dead and the dying chickens and disposes of them. He eyed me warily.

“You’re not from one of those crazy animal rights groups, are you? Okay, then, well, I guess I can tell you, I also take out the ones that are not growing. It wouldn’t pay, would it, to keep them there? No profit, they are just useless eaters.

Masson places the following thought in parentheses, but it’s so important an observation, I think it deserves more. Instead of parentheses, bold type:

The phrase resonated for me. “Useless eater” was used by the Nazis to describe the inmates of psychiatric institutions whom the Nazis wanted dead, and indeed did kill.

(pages 91-93)

In this system, an animal (or someone living with a disability, a woman, a person of color, a disbeliever, etc.) is only worth as much as the value he/she/it brings to those in charge. As soon as one becomes a drain, a loss, unprofitable, she risks being tossed aside, disposed of, like so much garbage.

All traces of individuality, emotionality, intelligence, will, self-determination and sentience are denied, obscured, wiped clean. All that matters is how living beings may best be exploited to further another’s ends. Oftentimes, this exploitation involves physical torture and ends in death.

Photo via peta2flickr

If you don’t buy into this speciesist/sexist/racist/ableist/xenophobic mindset, protest! Resist! Speak out! Engage! Fight!

Your plate is a great place to start.

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See also:

Horizontal Women

Horizontal Women, Redux

“A cow is so much like a woman”

“…even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings…”

Book Review: The Pig Who Sang to the Moon by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (2003)

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