Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Observation 01

Trip to the Chicago Science and Industry Museum
In Plain Sight
By Michelle Timpone

Last Sunday my family and I took a trip to the Science and Industry Museum here in Chicago. It was a return visit for me after many years and I spent the day wandering different areas of the museum and my memory. We walked into the agriculture room created to teach children the value or farming as well as where their food comes from. I remember walking through this area as a child. Frankly it was never my favorite part as other aspects of the museum drew my attention with swirling colors and loud noises. Nonetheless I was back, my impression now much stronger. The room was filled with fiberglass replicas of farm animals standing in a typical farm setting. A large corn-harvesting tractor was in the center of the room mowing down plastic corn. Different corners of the exhibit were designated to different aspects of farming and agriculture. Areas were set up to illustrate to visitors the soy and corn content of their food. There was a small green house with real plants, each one carefully labeled and displayed. There were also sections designated to the meat and dairy trade.

The pig section was displayed with the mother sow lying on her side within a small confinement while several piglets nursed. A nearby plaque explained mother pigs were kept in small cages most of their lives so that they would not accidentally roll over their young. This was for the safety of the young. It also created a safe habitat where the sow did not have to concern herself with predators. Pictures of pigs dotted the walls with buttons to push to hear the pigs “talk.” Speech bubbles were placed next to the pigs mouth with fun facts about pork and bacon.

Next up was the dairy farm. A large dairy cow was hooked up to a series of metal valves and confined within a small metal cage preventing her movement. A sign next to her remarked “no human hands needed to touch her during the milking process thus keeping the process sterile and free of disease.”

I was aware of this kind of animal treatment prier to my museum excursion. In fact I know of far more gruesome aspects of farming and meat production. Frankly, that was not what concerned me that day. I believe these are things most people generally know about farming but don’t like to think about. Frequently what I notice when I hear people talk about farming animals is that they separate the animal from the food they consume; beef for cow, pork for pigs. Even when people make the hard connection between the foods they eat and the animals they came from, they like to imagine beautiful pastoral settings with animals leisurely grazing not the colder reality. Whether people feel we should be farming animals the way we do is not the issue. Generally people agree that suffering should be kept to a minimum and I don’t know anyone who could get through a PETA video without flinching. But these are things that are created to get a reaction. Witnessing an animal being slaughtered violently to emotional music will elicit a different response from walking through a museum.

What struck me was how these families confronted this cold, though cleaned up and museum reality. How did people react to seeing a pig unable to move and confined to a cage barely larger then the animal itself? It was the complete lack of reaction and lack of question asking that startled me. You can usually count on small children to ask the questions that the rest of us are too polite to ask. Yet this time it seemed as if the children were blind to something as well. It was okay to treat these animals this way. There wasn’t even a discussion of morality. This is just how things are done and how they have been done. I’m not entirely sure what this means but it certainly speaks to some kind of emotional numbness. This is not just something I see when it comes to fiberglass animals this infects our relationships with the living. It also speaks of an inability to see past set ways of practiced behavior. This kind of blindness is something we cannot afford and something that should be examined.

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