Aesthetics and the senses / Food and Culture

The Chicken Hatchery

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This image invites the viewer to consider the source of eggs and poultry.  It shows a male chick about to fall off of a conveyor belt at a commercial hatchery.  What is referenced, but not shown, is the fact that the male chick is being killed.  This image constitutes art as it shows careful attention to composition, contrast, texture, and selective use of focus to draw the viewers eye to the subject.  It does not merely document a moment in time, but attempts to invoke a feeling in the viewer through artistic technique. (To see an example of photography as mere documentation of this subject, try a Google image search for “male chicks.”)  A note on cultural context: As cocks produce no eggs, they are discarded at birth.  As no laws exist regarding their treatment, they are often dumped live into trash bins where they are crushed, suffocate, or starve. Others may be gassed. This is the fate of 337 million U.S. chicks per year.
I chose this image for its historical and cultural significance. In terms of culture, few necessities of life have as much personal, social, and cultural significance as what we choose to eat.  This photo provides paradox for each of these aspects:
1) Food is personal.  From an individual’s diet, much can be said of his nationality, ethnicity, socio-economic situation, personal taste, and ethics.  Yet this image contrasts the personal nature of food with the impersonal nature of food production.
2) Food is social.  Food is often the center of social activity.  There are ritualized foods for such occasions as weddings, birthdays, barbecues, business meetings, and romantic dates.  When people gather to talk, they are often also gathering to share food.  Yet the suffering behind the food is generally not a socially-acceptable subject of conversation.  This photo invites discussion of this aspect of what we eat.
3) Food is cultural.  Each culture has implicit values and normative foods.  Eggs are considered a normal food in many cultures.  Are the values implicit in this image endorsed by the culture that has created it?
In terms of historical perspective, it is an example of how industrialization affects our food supply.  The effects of the Industrial Revolution have resulted in a progression from farm to factory that has occurred gradually over generations, culminating situations such as this photo portrays.  Factory farms are a topic that receives a great deal of attention in current public discourse, and yet few are aware of this intrinsic aspect of egg production.
The Chicken Hatchery
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3 thoughts on “The Chicken Hatchery

  1. I like how culture was brought up in this post. when seeing the baby chicken on the ledge and after reading that many baby chicks die each year it made me think of my own diet and things that i contribute to . Im sure many of us can admit to either eating eggs or poultry and its actually quite sad truth behind this picture.

  2. In promoting animals’ rights and acknowledging then uniting against the inhumane treatment of them in factory farms, this photo is one of the most effective I have ever seen because of the artistic technique you describe. Instead of presenting an outwardly violent image of animals suffering, as many anti-factory farm publications do, this image evokes the emotion of affection for the chick, which makes his approaching death more meaningful to the viewer.

    The way the chick is naively waiting to die, symbolizes our (purposeful?) ignorance in the treatment of animals because we continue to live like there is nothing wrong with the commercialized industry. Additionally, it is disturbing how the two employees are indifferently watching the chick being unknowingly carried towards his death. Their clasped hands indicate numbness to the killing, and their forearms resting on the belt infers passivity and acceptance of his death. Therefore, the workers symbolize the public’s detached perspective since, as you rightfully observe, “the suffering behind the food is generally not a socially-acceptable subject of conversation.”

  3. Pingback: Animal Rights « History and Literature of Georgian England

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