Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hormel: 2008 food processor of the year

The old cliche about people looking like their dogs seems to have taken a morbid twist:  the two executives on either end resemble the many millions of hogs they've butchered.   

Senior VP at far left  -- Beefy hand at side barely uclenches in time for the photo.  It may have sounded like drink-propelled friendly banter floating over from the Tyson Chicken table, all that talk about how they could process a dozen chickens in the time it took the slowpokes from Hormel to process a single hog, but, ha, the words "the award goes to Hormel" wiped the smug grins off the faces of those punk ass chicken processors pretty fast.

Senior VP, second from left --   He gives powerpoints to full auditoriums every week so why tonight of all nights did he have to freeze like a mummified corpse?  He sneaks a sidelong glance at his flush faced compatriot at the far end grinning and leering like receiving an award like this is second nature to him.  He knows this guy will be full of drunken bluster at all the after-hours parties, claiming more than his share of the credit

Senior VP, center right.  Scholarly glasses, pasty fluorescent light complexion, aw shucks smile.  A portrait of modesty and deference but don't believe it for a second.  He's got both hands on the trophy and he doesn't plan on letting go.  He's the one who burned the midnight oil making sure those incidents at the suppliers' farms got buried in the press and weren't legally actionable.

Senior VP, far right.  Cheeks flushed hog blood red from all the pre-ceremony booze.  Mussed up hair from the group bear hug after the award was announced.  Doing his best to suppress the full-throated victory howl.  Spots the waiter at the table putting down a fresh gin and tonic.  Good man.  slip him a fiver on the way out.  Dreaming up sexually charged quips for the gals at the post award show parties.

How about the trophy itself?  Is it a replica of the blade that slits the necks?  No, it seems to be a Q for Quality.

Hormel's Austin plant alone slaughters 19,000 hogs per day.  Processes.  Not slaughters, processes.  Slaughter connotes judgment and we don't want to judge these jubilant executives on their big night.  It wasn't just the numbers that earned Hormel this award.  The year was filled with product innovations.  The new Natural Choice line of sandwich and deli meats was so successful it left Hormel executives grasping wildly for the appropriate sports metaphors.  CEO Jeffrey Ettinger called it his "rookie of the year."

Hormel deserves this award.  They really do.  Look at the faces of these four executives and you won't see the tiniest hint of self-doubt or remorse.  It's no small feat, this total absence of compassion for the suffering of fellow creatures, even after the video documentation of the unimaginable abuse these hogs endure in their brief, terrible lives.  Some people, when confronted with their complicity in this horror, would fall to their knees begging forgiveness, but Hormel blithely states on their website
pork producers are the best ambassadors for animal welfare in the United States.  They set the standard and do everything they can to make sure their animals have the best animal welfare.
This ability to completely repress compassion for the suffering of others is surely a rare achievement.  Each and every Hormel employee deserves to share in the award.  And they will.  The trophy held up in the photo by the proud executives is by now resting securely in Hormel headquarters, encased in glass in some place of honor, where the thousands of Hormel employees can walk by it and share in the thrill of achievement.