Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In the Eyes (and Ears) of the Beholder

I recently learned of an art project on display at an art exhibition in Holland. The exhibit, titled “Our Daily Dread,” features moving urethane pig ears suspended from the ceiling, as well as a huge video of a dog chewing on a pig ear, and animal noises coupled with background sounds that can only be described as the “slaughterhouse soundtrack” (click here to view the video).

Perhaps my art appreciation prowess isn’t exactly up to speed, but I was left a little confused by this exhibit.

I understand that this was meant to be a spin off of Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s documentary film “Our Daily Bread.” Geyrhalter’s documentary shows scene after scene of the industrial production of food, with no narration. Many reviews seem to have mistakenly interpreted the film as Geyrhalter lashing out against the evils of mechanization in the food industry.

To quote Geyrhalter about the documentary, “There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘Buy organic products! Eat less meat!’ But at the same time it’s kind of an excuse, because we all enjoy the fruits of automation and industrialization and globalization every day, which affect much more than just food.”

It seems to me that Geyrhalter is blaming society and its consumers rather than coming down on the very food industry that we all faithfully support with our dollars.

I can partially agree with this. While it is true that today’s modern food production is a reflection of consumer demands, consumers are asking for cheaper, more widely available food products in great varieties, and the industry is responding. Our food industry, like many other industries, has evolved to meet the demands of present day society.

However, I do not feel one single ounce of guilt about this. In fact, I think the advancements in automation are impressive and a testament to the amazing progress in the food processing industry. I’d venture to say that most people involved in the industry would see the documentary as something beautiful and artistic.

Which brings me back to the “Our Daily Dread” exhibit. I believe that in art’s noble attempt to deliver a social message, it often falls short. In a desperate scramble to make viewers “feel” something, the artist settles on making people feel incredibly guilty. This to me is the equivalent of a movie that attempts to be scary by having characters jump out unexpectedly. There is a difference between a startle and a scare. Just like there is a different between delivering a social message and just trying to make people feel bad.

Sorry to say, Ken Rinaldo (the artist) but your guilt trip did not work on me! Am I supposed to be repulsed by the sight of a dog eating a pig’s ear? Let’s keep in mind that in some countries, pig ears are considered a delicacy, and eaten by humans. Am I supposed to feel bad for the pig? Pig ears are a byproduct of the pork industry – no one killed (or tortured) an entire pig just to obtain that ear.

Additionally, should I be saddened by the mechanical sounds of slaughter? If you recall, the traditional method of slaughtering a pig had something to do with grandma dragging Wilbur out to the barn, wrestling him down to the ground and using a handheld knife to cut this throat. If you ask me, our newer, more automated methods are a lot less horrible – for the human and the pig.

And finally, are dozens of floating urethane pig ears supposed make me feel bad about eating meat? Last time I checked, my bacon didn’t have ears and there was absolutely no dread involved on my end when it came to eating it. At the very least, its going to require some actual pig body parts (extra points if they are bloody) if you are even attempting to rattle me – go big or go home, Rinaldo.


Technical Food Jobs said...

I believe that he is entitled to his opinion however like you said food manufacturing companies are leaders in innovation so perhaps he should see both sides of the argument before his "artistic" protest

ken said...

Dear Karen:

My installation was not to be read so literally and this is why I provided a dog chewing a pig ear as in some cultures dog is also considered a meal. I am a meat eater and enjoy meat. However the film you reference Our Daily Bread did raise issues for me about the machine nature of food production and the implications of that food to animal treatment. The industry needs to find better ways to reduce pain and suffering for animals that will become our food. The fact that your blog is called foodmanufacturing pretty much sums up your point of view and I have been to slaughter houses and while clearly manufacturers have made attempts to reduce pain ala some of the works and research of Temple Grandin there is much to be done.

Ken Rinaldo

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