i've been meaning to blog about our recent meeting on faith and work in springdale, arkansas, and will begin to do so over the next weeks. the trip, part of the center's faith as a way of life project, took a group of pastors, theologians, and lay leaders to visit one of the largest producers of protein products in the world: tyson foods.
many of us visited the plant on randall road in springdale where cornish game hens are processed. they come in off a truck from the farm on one end of the factory and emerge on the other in a shrink-wrapped bag and ready for the -40 degree storage freezer. this plant produces 90% of the cornish game hens for the u.s. market and to give you some sense of the numbers, this means 135 birds a minute and upwards of 1,200,000 birds per week. this is one thing to say in a blog post, but another thing altogether to see it happening before your eyes.
we all had many experiences and reactions to the visit, and to the plant visit in particular. the reaction i what to highlight here is the feeling among some of the participants that the mechanization, the 'efficiency' of the production itself, is wrong.
at the time, i thought to myself, 'on what theological basis?' of course, a hundred years ago, and even when i was a kid in montana, we killed our own chickens or our neighbor did. i remember watching them jumping around headless in the yard. so surely the issue can't be simply that we've consolidated the killing from hundreds of homes and local communities to one facility. of course one can object to killing animals at all, but that is clearly a contested issue and not one held by a majority of christians. i haven't read deeply enough to say i won't be convinced on this point, and i do eat low on the food chain more for environmental reasons than concern about the immorality of killing animals. after all, i was in 4-H, raising my own sheep, cows, etc. that we then gave thanks for and share around our table.
but what about the impulse for efficiency itself? is there a value there that is in fundamental conflict with christian values? this depends, i suppose. is efficiency simply a means to profit and done in a way that disregards people? if so, it may conflict. but efficiency can also be a way to both make dangerous jobs less so, and to eliminate waste of all sorts from the production process. if so, then it may fit with christian values of stewardship. efficiency is a slippery value that can be pushed for good or ill. an example. in the factory, they've worked out a plan of shifting roles on the assembly line every 30 minutes so that people don't get so numb from doing the same thing over and over. the change required additional training and substantial getting used to, but has reduced turnover at the plant by 50%. furthermore, the introduction of specialized machines has mechanized some of the most dangerous parts of the process.
these are complex issues and deserve complex thinking. i welcome that, but fear too often we short change complex reflection for pat answers and critiques. our visit to tyson began to push us further into this sort of complex theological reflection, but in order to do it, we have to check our preconceived assumptions (what we know) at the door and enter with the intention of learning (what we don't know).
anon, and +peace