The Omnivore’s Dilemma


Michael Pollan

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

1. Wednesday. Joel insists on slaughtering his chickens on the farm, making their deaths as much a part of the farm system as their lives. Over breakfast before they process the chickens, Joel complains that he often runs afoul of government food safety regulations, which are designed for industrial slaughterhouses rather than a farm that slaughters its animals outside. Joel gathers a small group to help with processing the chickens, including some neighbors.
Joel’s philosophy that “everything is connected” turns out to apply to the deaths of animals as well as to their lives. He believes that the slaughter of animals should not be kept out of sight and out of mind, but should instead remain an essential stage in an interconnected food chain and life cycle. 
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Pollan is apprehensive about slaughtering the chickens, but feels that a meat-eater should “take some direct responsibility for the killing on which his meat-eating depends.” When the chickens have their throats slit, he finds the process disturbing, but is comforted by the fact that they don’t seem to fear the blood or the farmer’s knife. Pollan slaughters about a dozen chickens himself, becoming comfortable enough with the technique that it starts to feel routine.  Still, he tells Joel that he wouldn’t want to slaughter a chicken every day, and Joel agrees that routine animal slaughter is dehumanizing for the people who do it—which is why his farm only slaughters animals a few times a month.
Joel believes that the slaughter of animals is part of the natural life cycle of a farm. However, he also expresses the view that killing animals is difficult for humans and not conducive to their happiness. By making slaughter a ritualized event rather than a daily occurrence, he shows respect for both the animals who die and the people who have to carry out the taking of a life. For him, slaughter is not a bureaucratic act, but one invested with significance. 
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After being slaughtered, the chickens are plucked, gutted, and processed into the oven-ready broilers that are sold at market. After noon, customers begin to arrive to pick up their chickens. Pollan notes that this is the ethical power of Joel’s method: people are free to come see how their food is made, providing assurance that the chickens are being cleanly and humanely slaughtered. Joel complains that he could sell his food more directly to consumers if it weren’t for the thicket of government regulations preventing him from developing a more viable local food chain.
For Joel, the measure of accountability in his slaughterhouse practices is not government oversight, as in an industrial meat factory. Rather, it is the transparency of his methods. By allowing anyone to come and see the slaughter, he acknowledges the interconnectedness of the food chain by letting people see exactly where their food comes from. 
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Related Quotes
As Teresa chats with customers, Pollan helps compost the chicken guts and waste. This is one of the “grossest jobs on the farm,” and Pollan is repulsed by the smells of rotting flesh. He reflects on the way that even the beauty of Polyface Farm is connected to the smell of death, since any eating of meat requires killing, bleeding, and evisceration. But for Joel, this pile of compost represents yet another part of the life cycle on his farm. Rather than being industrially processed and turned into cattle feed—which carries the risk of mad cow disease—this chicken waste will be converted into nutrients for the soil. Where Pollan sees blood and guts, Joel sees “biological wealth” that he can turn back into grass.
Pollan is disturbed by the violent end to what had seemed to him a happy and peaceful life for these animals. However, he also realizes that the death of these animals is intimately connected to new forms of life. For example, the compost left behind by these animal remains can be used to revitalize the fertility of the soil and produce more grass, which will in turn be consumed by more cattle. In this way, every animal is connected to another part of the food chain. 
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