Steve Mendell, unintentional hero to the vegetarian mindset

Very unintentional. Consider:

Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. President Steve Mendell made the admissions after a congressional panel forced him to watch undercover video of abuses of cattle at his plant. Mendell watched head-in-hand as cows were dragged by chains, jabbed by forklifts and shocked to get them into the box where they’d be slaughtered.

Afterward he briefly bowed his head, then backed away from claims he made in his written testimony that no ill cows from his plant entered the food supply.

So-called downer cattle are mostly barred by federal regulations from entering the food supply because they have a higher risk of infection.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., asked Mendell whether it was logical to conclude from the video that at least two downer cows entered the nation’s food supply.

“That would be logical, yes sir,” Mendell said.

“Has your company ever illegally slaughtered, processed, or sold a downer cow?” Stupak asked.

“I didn’t think we had sir,” Mendell said.

Reminding him that he was appearing under oath, lawmakers asked him why he claimed in written testimony that the abused cows where headed to be euthanized, not for the food supply.

“I had not seen what I saw here today,” said Mendell. He said that the Agriculture Department had refused to allow him to see some of the undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States.

Stupak pointed out that the video has been posted on the Humane Society Web site.

Obviously there’s a lot of schadenfreude-related roffles to be had at that exchange — and his mopey picture at the story I linked is all the more worth it for that reason.

Still, there’s a larger couple of points to be made here — one needs to recognize one’s own complicity in a system one participates in, whether as producer or user. I’ve not been blind to this; at the same time I feel strongly I don’t need the evidence in my face, which is why I’m not about to look up that video or anything of the sort myself. (Call it the Funny Games parallel if you like, as I feel the same way about Haneke’s work; I’m sure the point is good but I’m not about to go watch either version of the film.) On that level I’m with Mendell in a small way — it’s a classic “I don’t know and I don’t want to know” reaction, and it’s something anyone existing in comfort via the exploitation of someone or something else else has to wrestle with at some point, whether they like it or not.

But Mendell *is* a producer, there are laws, and there you go. He might not want to talk about it or think about it in such graphic terms, but that’s what he does and oversees (or did — as he states later in the article, “Our company is ruined. We cannot continue.”). However one wants to push it away or ignore it, you can’t not talk or think about it, and the impression I get here is not simply evasiveness or lying under oath but a desperate wish that this was all a nightmare he was about to wake up from. Nice and all but not exactly the case here (see also the now former governor of New York).

Of course, the exchange revolves less around the question of animal slaughter than whether or not it was overseen according to certain standards; Mendell was not on trial for the nature of his job but how employees answerable to him were acting according to the law, and what if anything he did about it. Still, to get back to my subject line — this is the kind of thing where you look at it and ask yourself if this is something you want to encourage, support of a system like this where this kind of horror and potential for disaster can exist. It’s not that vegetable products are automatically safer per se (consider the spinach scare a couple of years back) — standards for cleanliness and health are to be standards no matter the foodstuff, though more care needs to be taken some than with others.

In all, another reason why rice and beans always sounds like a good idea in general, say.

One Response to “Steve Mendell, unintentional hero to the vegetarian mindset”

  1. Reviewing the 2008 November California propositions — Prop 2 « Ned Raggett Ponders It All Says:

    […] I conclude by drawing your attention again to the story of Steve Mendell. […]


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