Saturday, December 11, 2010

The 2010 class inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame

You think of the people who keep the slaughterhouses running and you imagine them forcing their gaze away, hardening themselves. The ceaseless screams of terror infect their dreams. They beg forgiveness every sleepless night.

Actually, it doesn’t bother them much at all. They think it’s kind of cool. So cool they set up a Meat Industry Hall of Fame to honor the most prolific killers among them. In a black tie ceremony in conjunction with the meat processors outlook convention, they recently had the induction ceremonies for the class of 2010.

There was plenty of misty-eyed camaraderie as the inductees and their presenters looked back on their careers. These aren’t some local yokels who brought down a few deer. This is the A list. We’re talking numbers that will never be approached. Six of them alone can claim credit for the torture and slaughter of over 50 billion farm animals. These six would be would Dave Thomas, Founder of Wendy’s, Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, Colonel Harlan Sanders, Joel Johnson, former president, CEO and Chairman of Hormel Foods and Richard Bond, former CEO and president of Tyson Foods.

(By the way, what are those inductees holding in their group photo? Do the trophies come in the form of miniaturized gulliotines? Maybe they don't want to risk missing out on a kill, even on the day of their induction. That's the kind of attention to detail that got them into the Hall of Fame in the first place.)

Not all the inductees are as famous as the big six. You had H. Kenneth Johnson, former vice president of the National Live Stock and Meat Board who was credited with being “one of the first people to educate the industry about listening to consumers and developing more convenient products to meet their needs.” Just as the baseball Hall of Fame has room for singles hitters next to the sluggers, the Meat Industry Hall of Fame can’t consist only of fast food company CEO’s. It needs its H. Kenneth Johnsons too.

You had Deven Scott, former executive vice president of the North American Meat Processors Association, “who received a spontaneous standing ovation in recognition of a long and influential career spent serving the industry in positions as the NAMP and at the American Meat Institute.” The spontaneous standing ovation couldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, his record seven National Provisioner cover photos is unlikely to be equaled.

Of course, what would a Hall of Fame induction be without controversy? Where were the slaughterhouse workers caught on video beating a downed cow with a metal pole? Granted, they’ve only slaughtered a fraction of the cattle slaughtered by some of the big boys. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. They found creative ways of inflicting pain. Surely there’s a place for people like this in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, outside the ceremony there were cries of speciesism, progressive ranchers asking why this Hall of Fame class was limited to people. Plenty of cattle achieved greatness too. They’re the ones shackle hoisted and stun bolted, who offered their bodies to the quartering saw and their seared flesh to so many satisfied meat lovers. They’re the ones who marched proudly down the Temple Grandin-designed cattle chutes, eager to bring glory to Wendy’s and McDonald’s. (Anyone who questions the cattle’s Hall of Fame credentials can find detailed accounts of their prolific self-slaughtering achievements here.) There would be no Wendy’s old fashioned hamburger without the flesh of a steer. Yet, Dave Thomas gets inducted and all the cattle his company slaughtered are mere footnotes. You can’t expect this injustice to be rectified overnight. It’s good to know there are people out there working quietly behind the scenes to put an end to this unfortunate speciesism and bias. The veterans committee would do well to start drawing up a list of worthy cattle for next year’s class.

But enough with the controversy. It’s a time of celebration. According to the awe-struck correspondent from National Provisioner, “the inductees spoke eloquently and at times movingly, about their careers, the milestones they experienced.”

So to all the young dreamers in agricultural schools from Iowa to Kansas, sharpen those blades. Oil up those stun bolt guns. The class of 2011 set records that may never be broken, but soon it will be time for the next generation of killers. It could be your bust that ends up next to the bust of Dave Thomas and Ray Kroc and Deven Scott at the Meat Industry Hall of Fame.

An account of last year’s Hall of Fame class here.