ChickieNobs vs. God’s Gardeners: Meat Production and Consumption
Over spring break, I had an up-close and personal experience with a bunch of slobbery, teethy, somewhat dirty, and absolutely adorable animals at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary up in rural New York. I had never considered vegetarianism to be a viable life choice before volunteering there – how could I possibly live without bacon, or chicken, or turkey at Thanksgiving? During the week, however, we ate a vegan diet (because the Sanctuary owner asked us to), and spent time with each of the animals: Buddy, the blind horse who had been hit by a car but loves to feel for people with his nose and head; Amelia, the problem pig; Rambo, the oldest sheep I’ve ever seen in my life; and so many more (including those saved from factory farming). When I came back to school, I knew that a vegan lifestyle would be hard to keep up (as of right now, I cannot make the decision to live without cheese), but I decided to try out vegetarianism, or at least reduce my meat consumption as much as possible. It hasn’t been as difficult as I assumed (except for the pepperoni pizza—oh! pepperoni…), but it has changed how I view food and food consumption.
So when reading Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, I usually focus on the overarching themes of dystopia and post-apocalyptic action, and how that made me feel (scared, often). However, I kept seeing references to the kinds of food they ate in the pre-apocalyptic time, before all mass food production disappeared. In Jimmy’s life, he sees the creation of ChickieNobs—“what they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin”. The growth units specialize in parts, just breasts, or just drumsticks. For all the vegetarians out there reading, the growth units don’t have heads! So obviously the ChickieNob “chickens” can’t think, can’t feel pain—what’s the harm in eating them, then? Despite the theoretical appeal of eating meat from something that isn’t animal anymore from a neurological standpoint, Atwood’s description of the source of chicken for popular fast food chains is quite disgusting. The texture of the genetically modified meat and the inhumanity that somehow comes across when Atwood imagines the very mechanical meat-maker machine makes me appreciate vegetarianism and not eating fast food, even today. Between this and the descriptions of SecretBurger in The Year of the Flood (where the “secret” is the kind of meat in the burger), Atwood paints a very disheartening and pessimistic view of a futuristic (or possibly current?) food industry, and even genetically modified food. However, she also gives an overtly religious vegetarian cult in God’s Gardeners. So where does Atwood’s text stand on this food issue? I’d say she lands on the side of God’s Gardeners, at least a little, or maybe just not on the side of ChickieNobs. And where do I stand? I can tell you this much: I won’t be eating a SecretBurger anytime soon…