How the Sausage Gets Made
Might a deeper examination of how food is acquired and prepared lead to a greater understanding of the many unseen and often unnoticed processes that make up the food cycle? For the purposes of this sub-exhibit, we will walk you, the listener, through several steps that are typical but not often considered in the preparation of food in western cultures, specifically at Furman University.
Food preparation often begins with physically walking into a space (perhaps “Walking On Stairs”), such as a kitchen, where food can be made or prepared. Then food preparation itself begins to take place, often so habitually that we scarcely know that we are doing anything at all. Some activities, such as “Boiling Water” and “Egg Cracking,” smuggle in with them assumptions and ideas taken for granted about the source of materials and food. After initial ingredients are gathered, physical tools, such as “Cooking with a Whisk” and “Electric Turkey Carver” are used to transform ingredients into something edible and delicious. However, the use of these instruments can allow consumers, if they are not careful, to view the animal only as an ingredient, rather than respecting its umwelt. That is, consumers may see a turkey as only a component of a meal to paired with cranberry sauce rather than appreciating the world as the turkey experiences it and its routines, habits, and life. After physical tools are used, the ingredients typically come together and combine with energy from the grid (something that is also taken for granted) into a final product, such as “Bread Crackling.” This final product is then consumed by people who are often unaware of the numerous processes to go into food preparation, such as when an individual is in a cafeteria and hears the words “Welcome to Moe’s” as they place their order.
As you take a tour of this sub-exhibit and hear sounds of food preparation from first physically walking to a food source and finally to food being received by a consumer, please deeply consider the processes of food preparation that are often ignored. Awareness of the sources of our food and the energy that go into cooking and food preparation makes us more thoughtful consumers, which is important since food consumption is ubiquitous and occurs multiple times per day. This awareness also makes us better stewards of the Earth, which enables all food production.
Walking On Stairs
You’ve just gotten home, and you are exhausted from a long day’s work. You look at the stairs that lead to your main floor kitchen and dread having to walk up each and every step. However, you know that you are hungry and that if you don’t go up the stairs, you won’t be able to make dinner. This sound is representative of the sound we make as humans walking up and down the stairs with hesitation. This can also be representative of how everything is accessible to us in our society, but we still seem to complain about effort. Phenomena such as this relate to the “dwelling” trope explained by Garrard in his work titled “Ecocriticism” (Garrard 117 & 145). As humans, we tend to prefer instant gratification in our day to day lives. We love to have everything at the ready and right there for us to take. Walking up stairs might not seem like a great feat to most people, but however, when we come home from working and are “tired and hungry”, we wish that everything was easily accessible.
This sound is not only representative of the “dwelling” trope, but it is also representative of all the noise we tend to contribute to the environment. When people in the past would go hunting for their food, they would have to be very quiet. In John Clare’s “Animal Poems” it talks about how we can be foolish as humans and slow and loud (Clare 244-249). Stairs are a more recent invention in the humankind’s timeline. We have always had to make some sort of effort to get food for our survival. It just depends on whether or not we make the decision to take the feat on.
As I turned on the faucet of my kitchen sink to fill my pot of water, I did not once stop to think about where the water came from, where the materials that make up the pots and pans were made, or any of the processes required to create such things, but maybe I should. Without asking questions I am blindly accepting the possible usage of carcinogens and immoral labor practices, and the negative environmental effects of manufacturing that might be smuggled beneath the hidden systematic processes of creating products and providing services. Susan Leigh Star encourages us to look behind the hidden in search for an understanding of the critical infrastructures, such as sewers, power supplies, information systems, etc., that highly impact our environment and ecology. As Star suggests “Infrastructure is both relational and ecological…it is part of the balance of action, tools, and the built environment, inseparable from them” (377). Thus, in order to understand our ecological environment, it is important to ask about the ecological roots and processes of the items we use every day. Sandra Steingraber argues that only after we are “in full possession of our ecological roots, [can we] begin to survey our present situation. Such an approach recognizes that the current system of regulating the use, release, and disposal of known suspected carcinogens—rather than preventing their generation in the first place—is intolerable” (268). Next time you turn on the water, kitchen appliances, or light switch, think about the processes that allow you to do so. Understanding the background processes that lead to our current environment allows us to form our own opinions of our actions and critically analyze how it affects us and the environment in which we live.
When I crack an egg, I only have one thing on my mind-- to not let any of the shell get into the bowl with the raw yolk and egg whites. Over my life, I have perfected my method: a sharp crack against the side of the bowl coupled with a careful but firm pull to cleave the sides of the egg shell from each other. Usually, this method works well and I quickly crack eggs in succession, anxious to move to the next step in the recipe. Occasionally, this mechanistic process is interrupted. A tiny bit of egg shell gets into the raw eggs, from which it is extremely difficult, and often frustrating, to remove. It is only when the egg shell is unreachable that the more interesting components of an egg-shell are learned. I notice how like attracts like, and it is easier to fish out a bit of egg shell with the larger egg shell piece than with a spoon or fingertip. We only tend to notice and appreciate ‘egg-shellness’ when it breaks down in the same way that we only truly appreciate electricity when the power goes out and we cannot use it. This is not unique only to egg shells and electricity, but to all infrastructure. Susan Lee Star notes, “the normally invisible qualities of working infrastructure become visible when it breaks” (382). In this case, it is only when the egg shell quite literally breaks (and when a piece falls into our cooking ingredients) that we pause to appreciate the qualities of the egg-shell.
However, fully appreciating ‘egg-shellness’ only when its properties are made visible because something goes wrong is perhaps just as problematic as failing to notice or appreciate it at all. When did egg shells become something seen as akin to infrastructure? When did an egg shell only become the packaging in which scrambled eggs or an omelette come? Rather than seeing an egg shell as the home and protection for a chick, or even an awe-inspiring scientific phenomenon occurring within the umwelt of a hen, we often view shells as another inconvenient barrier between us and our food. This indicates that we view hens and their eggs in a way similar to Descartes, viewing a hen as essentially a complex machine that creates and neatly packages eggs in shells for our consumption (Garrard 147-148). We see eggs only as meal-sized morsels to enjoy without regard for the fact that they may have hatched and become chickens one day. Rather than appreciating that eggs (and thereby possible future chicks) are housed in an organic infrastructure that protects them and allows for their very existence, we only see eggs as being housed in an infrastructural barrier to our consumption.
Cooking With a Whisk
This is the sound of a metal whisk moving in a circular pattern within a metal pot coated with Teflon. The pot is made of aluminum and is a product of the Rachel Ray cookware line.
The sound produced is not a harmonious sound, nor particularly pleasing to the ears. But while the noise remains almost grating to the senses, it is a familiar reverberation of food preparation, which then becomes a symbol of communion as people come together to eat.
Although, increasingly more often, consumers are withdrawn from the process of birth to plate, which remains necessary in order to be a moral member of the community that consists of the environment as well as its inhabitants. Wallace asks, “What ethical conventions have you worked out that permit you not to just eat but to savor and enjoy flesh-based viands?”; for we toss the concept that our food once had a life before it reached our plate (254). And although we must consider the birthplace of our food and the life it lived before, we must also consider the manufacturing processes and human labor placed into the creation of our cooking utensils. Meyer Corporations, the creator of Rachel Ray products, remains strangely enigmatic when it comes to disclosing manufacturing details, but it can be assumed this product was engendered somewhere in China in a facility that fails to practice the most principled behavior. And in America’s consumerist society, the public disregards the source and production of its materials. We also fail to recognize the influences the chemicals utilized within factories have on our bodies as well as the bodies of our children. Steingraber comments on “the harmless aspect of the familiar”, recognizing that when confronted with potentially harmful things in our environment on a regular basis, we become unable to understand their danger (7). These chemicals and additives within food and cookware endure because consumers remain unaware of their effects or simply forget there was ever a question of their risk. We choose the root of convenience. For in the mind of the consumer, the world is there for the taking, so why would anyone ever question it?
Electric Turkey Carver
Timers were going off as my brother scrambled to finish setting the table. The kitchen was akin to an orchestra warming up before a performance. Pots were clanking and dishes hit the counter as we prepared for our Thanksgiving feast. Amidst the rush to set up the side dishes and drinks, I recorded the sound of my father using an electric turkey carver. You can hear the sound of the electric knife shaving away slices of meat, occasionally clipping the bones on the turkey. This sound industrializes the turkey, it is no longer a bird in the wild, but a symbol of human and specifically American culture. The turkey loses its umwelt, its model of the world, in this sound. It’s no longer the turkey for itself, but the turkey for human consumption. Susan Star explains that “to study an information and neglect its standards, wires, and settings, you miss equally essential aspects of aesthetics, justice, and change” (379). The same can be said about how we consider the turkey in this sound – we only hear the slicing of the turkey meat. The food cycle is similar to the electrical grid, in that humans tend to disregard where the food came from and how it got there. I know that when I think of a Thanksgiving turkey, I only imagine it coming from the grocery store. I stop there, instead of delving further into the life of the turkey. David Foster Wallace asks, “is their refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that they don’t want to think about it?” (64). While Wallace’s question is regarding whether boiling lobsters is humane, his idea brings up a valid point in relation to this sound. When we listen to the sound of the turkey carver, do we simply disregard the umwelt of the turkey?
This is a recording of bread crackling while it cools down. As we listen to the crisp crackles and snaps I would like to draw attention to the idea of a loaf of bread. If I were to ask, “what goes into bread; how is it made?” many would begin listing off ingredients and methods to make the best loaf. Interestingly, we often fall prey to seeing only the top layer of a system that runs many layers down. Yes; flour, water, and yeast, when combined in specific ways, will produce bread. But, where do these ingredients come from, who is making them, and who or what is affected? As the bread releases heat or energy, it crackles. Just this sound alone represents energy drawn from the oven as heat and it represents the energy, most likely sold by Duke energy, that was carried through wires to our homes and to our ovens. This too had to be derived from somewhere. Solar, coal, nuclear, hydro or some other energy-producing form gave Duke the product which they now sell. Every process, often unnoticed, is somehow tied into this complex array of systems that has been referred to as “the grid” by Michael Warner, in his lecture, Environmental Care and the Infrastructure of Indifference. Susan Leigh Starr eloquently defines the grid in her article, The Ethnography of Infrastructure: “It is by definition invisible, part of the background for other kinds of work. It is ready-to-hand. This image holds up well enough for many purposes—turn on the faucet for a drink of water and you use a vast infrastructure of plumbing and water regulation without usually thinking about it” (Starr 380). The crackle of bread cooling calls upon this same concept: a system that is commonly invisible yet amazingly vast in scale and complex in design.
Welcome to Moe's
Picture this; it is the best time of the day, lunch-time, and after all the stress of the morning you finally find yourself in the cafeteria, waiting for the refreshing nourishment of a meal. You walk up to the Moe’s counter where a friendly worker greets you with the company’s signature catchphrase, “Welcome to Moe’s! What can I get for you?” while the grill sizzles at the touch of fresh meat for your upcoming burrito. All of these familiar sounds may even trigger a physical reaction, such as a rumbling stomach or a salivating mouth. But what the everyday lunch-loving patron may not realize is the multitude of exchanges which take place between the worker, the grill, the customer, the steak on the grill, the music in the background, and the power running betwist it all. We call this multiplicitous noise anthrophony, which can be simply defined as all sounds produced by humans. These noises, and how they connect to other noises including sounds made by animals and by technology, are studied in soundscape ecology, a science that analyzes the relationships between the sounds that humans make and their environment (Ozga 416). Beneath all these sounds lies what has come to be understood as the grid. Michael Warner describes the grid function as the “infrastructure of indifference” (Warner 14:18). In Susan Leigh-Star’s essay on the ethnography of infrastructure she defines the grid concept as “invisible, part of the background for other kinds of work” (Star 380). Recognizing the grid is important to becoming an environmentally sustainable community here at Furman because it helps us to pay attention to where our food comes from, how we consume it, and what happens to the post-consumption waste helping us to realize our inherent anthropocentric thought- and strive to move past it, the eventual goal of this project. So next time you stop for a tex-mex treat, think about where your food has come from and the endless cycle it has undergone to reach you. Caring enough to get ourselves out of this pickle is kind of a big dill.