Thursday, May 07, 2009

Romanian Hot Dogs

Agribusiness giant Smithfield Foods, has muscled its way into Eastern Europe and the famed Romanian hot dog will never be the same.

Doreen Carvajal and Stephen Castle of the "The New York Times," wrote May 7 that, "For centuries, from the Hapsburg Empire through Communist dictatorship, peasant farmers here have eked out a living from hogs, driving horses along ancient pocked roads and whispering ritual prayers on butchering day."

No more. The factory farming conglomerate's move into the backward and rustic region, "ranks among the continent's biggest agricultural transformations."

The kind of company President Obama recently promised to kneecap by doing away with offshore tax shelters, Smithfield's devastation of the Romanian countryside was subsidized by the European community, and abetted by national leaders.

As locals who opposed their invasion found out, big is necessarily better.

Factory farming became a reality in the United States before we ever really called it that or were aware of its evils. And while there are movements afoot here to reign in the waste and cruelty, Eastern Europe lacked the environmental regulation and oversight to handle the newfangled hog hell.

Which is just how Smithfield wanted it, according to Chairman Joseph W. Luter III who has described its global strategy as moving in a "very, very, big way, very fast, very fast."

Calibrated to a smaller and slower existence, Romanian hog farmers never stood a chance. But Smithfield, bathed in the Anglo-American profit-driven understanding of all things bright and beautiful, insists it has been a boon to U.S. consumers because of lower pork prices.

The point of the "New York Times" article is that, in Eastern Europe, they are not quite sure that a reduced price for the Romanian hot dog is worth the imposition of factory farming systems and the disappearance of traditional agricultural structures.

In Romania, the article states, the number of hog farmers has dropped in the four years spanning 2003 to 2007 by 422,000, which is a statistic that speaks for itself.

"Ex-farmers," the article reads, "overwhelmed by Smithfield's lower prices, often emigrated or shifted to construction jobs," replacing scenes like the top one, by Romanian painter Theodor Aman, with something like that below it.

Environmental concerns, in particular over air quality, have arisen. Smithfield's 40 factory farms in western Romania are equipped with metal manure containers "to inject manure into the ground."

highwayscribery is not sure what that means, but for Aura Danielescu the upshot is that, "We go crazy with the daily smell."

Mmmmm. Pass the mustard!

To be fair, the reporters gave the company a chance to respond, which its lawyer Charles T. Griffith did through an e-mail citing its contributions to Romanian life including (but not limited to!) "acquisition, renovation and construction of meat processing plants, swine farms, feed mills and cold storage facilities...networks of independent farmers that are contracted to shelter and feed pigs to market weights."

In these benighted facilities, "every stage of a hog's life is controlled. With assembly line efficiency, sows churn out litters three or four times a year. Withing 300 days, a 270-pound pig is ready for slaughter."

Oh you lucky Romanians!

The article offers an especially appealing -- and timely -- account of the mass murder and waste of pigs last year when swine fever broke out at its operations there.

Mexicans living in the environs of Smithfield's hog farm at Perote think it's where the recent outbreak of swine flu was born. Clearly there is precedent for this suspicion.

So why do we re-present this article to you?

highwayscribery believes in a politics that respects the delicate fabric of local food-related customs in places fortunate enough to have eluded the various waves of industrial mechanization which have buffeted those of us in the "developed" world.

Farming, for centuries, went hand-in-hand with a culture informed by the turn of seasons, the cycles of family existence, and a mutual relationship between beast and human.

Reducing these eternal rhythms bankrupts the societies long-guided by them and releases a new generation of youths into a world without direction, signposts, or native symbolism.

As for the animals, it can be said that, were they not to be consumed, they would not be bred and raised. But reducing their functions to those of machines with hearts, is to deny they possess those hearts and to unleash a karmic sin into the universe not all of us are willing to pay.

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