Recently, one of my Flickr contacts posted this picture of the "Whizbang Chicken Plucker" (the video of the "thing in action" is linked as well, and I would recommend that you take the couple minutes to watch it before reading this post)*.
I won't say anything about the contact, except that she's interested in sustainable living, and I'm guessing this to be one of the things she's doing to get to know this step in producing "food." I would definitely agree with the sentiment of the endeavor--that it is good for people to be familiar with the processes behind the manufacturing of food: too often, we separate the product from the process; we are urged to consume the packaged and convenient flesh and ignore what is done to the animal. However, the video is distressing: the handling of the chickens is nonchalant, and as the machine is ripping the feathers out of the chickens, the onlookers even chuckle. Why?
Since becoming vegan, I have been more and more sensitive to the construction of normative behaviors--how people defend, justify, and ignore what to me (us) seems unacceptable, despicable, disgusting. This was just another instance--the chicken-plucking--to which I was more sensitive. It is not just something that is perhaps repulsive--although it is that, in its graphic display of what the animal goes through to become "meat;" the reaction of the participants is symptomatic of the overall attitude: the laugh is at the spectacle, rather than the actual occurrence of the killing and deformation of the creatures. Despite being aware of the process of dismembering the chickens, there is no change in perception, and the animal is viewed as just that--a means to human ends, not as an entity with interests of its own.
It's peculiar--so often people say that they don't wish to think of the process that takes the animal from its life to their plate, etc., but it is apparent that even thinking (and seeing) the process doesn't directly disrupt that: the chickens being de-feathered in the Whizbang were already seen as food before the process (and thus, casually held by the feet and dunked in cold water beforehand--not a dead being, but food).
This separation is cultivated in our culture--the inconsistency between the treatment of companion and "food animals" is forgotten; if the distinction was recognized as completely arbitrary, perhaps the state of affairs would be different. I'm not sure what else to say at this point, so I'll leave it up to Matt to continue in his (longer) post in the same vein.
*After I started writing the post, I looked up the instrument--the plucker--and was dismayed to find several YouTube videos of "the thing in action"...apparently, this is a very common device--just something I didn't know about; and of course--arguably--it is a much more "humane" way to mutilate chickens and remove their feathers.