In Defense of Meat
October 26, 2012 8:50 AM   Subscribe

What short stories, novels, or articles present a pro-factory farming perspective?

I'm putting together a lesson plan for college students in an introductory writing course that asks them to consider the first chapter of The Omnivore's Dilemma along with a fictional text; Pollan's text will be a lens through which the students analyze a second work. Half of them will be working with TOD as well as Chapter 5 of The Grapes of Wrath. I'd like to give the other students a short story or novel chapter that celebrates meat, factory farming, or American food culture--something that offers an opposite perspective. If necessary, I'll use an article rather than a piece of fiction.
posted by munyeca to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1. Over on their new science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker penned an interesting piece about factory-farmed, hyper-processed meat, which suprised me with its depth of coverage and even-handed treatment: Pink Slime in the Context of History

2. 60's radical and all-round excellent thinker Stewart Brand published a book several years ago arguing that factory farming (and nuclear power) will be needed to feed the starving peoples of the world even as we are planning a transition to more sustainable systems. We may not like these things, but we still need to use them for a while. The book is Whole Earth Discipline.

3. The only fiction example I can think of is a really bad piece of modern-pulp post-apocalyptic macho right-wing fantasy adventure novel called The Last Centurion by John Ringo. Look, this is embarrassing to admit, but I've read and liked other works of his-- mindless military sci-fi stuff by someone who actually served in the military (if you've been there yourself you can always tell) but this book was just too over-the-top shrill and screedy even for me. Anyway, the protagonist is a military officer trapped with his unit in the Middle East when the whole world falls apart. He rants at great length about his childhood on a commercial-scale family farm, and then looking back on his (fictional) life, about how factory-farming saved the USA after the nuclear wars and the new ice age. Anyway, that was the best I could come up with. Bonus though-- apparently a lot of other people didn't like the book either, and you can pick up as many used copies as you want for only a penny. I should admit I may be misjudging this book, since I didn't finish it-- it sits on my shelf, mocking me for having paid hardcover prices the week it was released, based on the description and my enjoyment of Ringo's previous military SF. Mocking me....
posted by seasparrow at 9:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

About the only place you might find such an article would be on an industry website. To that end, there's this from

There's also this from
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:38 AM on October 26, 2012

If you're willing to use something a little bit older, you might find some of the articles in The Food of A Younger Land useful. It's obviously pre-factory farming for the most part, but there are some articles that are pretty laudatory about new forms of mechanization, including one about the Automat that makes it sound like paradise (or at least, my students thought so). In general, I suspect that the early days of these practices would be another good place to look. Factory farming probably seemed like the promise of the future at some point!
posted by dizziest at 11:28 AM on October 26, 2012

A chapter from Farm : a year in the life of an American farmer by Richard Rhodes might work for you. It's not explicitly pro-big agribusiness, but the farm Rhodes follows for a year is IIRC a 1000+ acre midwestern corn/soybeans enterprise dependent on large-scale mechanization. It's mostly sympathetic to the family and explains how even though their farm is capitalized in the millions they really net and live on less than 40k$ per year. It's from 1989 so maybe a bit dated. It actually echoes some of the points made by Pollan about corn, but the treatment is very dry, straight and not politicized.
posted by werkzeuger at 11:55 AM on October 26, 2012

Rereading your question, I'll add that Rhodes definitely celebrates the farm family, praising their stoicism and thrift in the face of hardship, without asking too many questions about the broader political or ecological context.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2012

Maybe this is unhelpfully stating the obvious, but I would think searching in terms of "green revolution" rather than "factory farming" may be more likely to yield the non-pejorative perspectives.
posted by anonymisc at 12:05 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The chief task of those who want to defend factory farming isn't to defend it; it's to make it invisible.

Because factory farming is prima facie cruel to animals, you don't tend to see much propaganda supporting it overtly (just as you won't see, eg, many texts defending white Australia's massacres of Aboriginal people). Instead you find lots of myth-making that paints an idyllic picture of farms that elides the reality of life for animals in piggeries/batteries. This stuff starts very young and it's constantly referenced in the stories that factory farmers tell to flog their product.

You also find this sort of thing, which celebrates meat but again elides where it came from.
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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