January 17, 2005

Moby Chicken, pt 3

"Ishtar," Habanero sighed, "I've been working for Baja for seex years. He knows how to run a company and, like I always say, I'd follow heem into battle any time and anywhere."

We'd been driving along the narrow paths in the woods for about half an hour. "How far is that 'hilly area' Baja mentioned?" I figgitted.

"About five or six miles," spoke a voice from the back seat of our Jeep.

"Yeah, five or six miles," chimed in another. Pete and Repeat were egg packers, and they always seemed eager to do whatever they could to make Baja proud of them. "We're not even close, yet. In fact, we're still near the farm."

"Yep. Still near the farm," echoed Pete. "And it looks like we're stopping again."

The convoy came to a halt along the edge of a long 2-foot high stone wall just as a fella came running up on the other side.

"Frapple!" he called out. "Got a question about some of these returns!"

"Who's that?" I asked Habbi.

"Dat's Silo," he replied. "He runs de recycle area. You'fe never been out here before?"

"No," I confessed. "What are they recycling?"


Frappled stepped over the stone wall and began walking down the opposite hill with Silo. Then he turned around and shouted, "We're gonna be here for a few minutes if you all wanna stretch your legs!"
We all got out of the Jeeps and stood around for a few minutes.

"You wanna see what goes on here?" asked Pete.

"Yeah, wanna see?" asked Repeat. Habbi, Pete, Repeat and I stepped over the wall and followed Frapple and Silo down the hill to an assembly of large machines. They were droning along somewhat loudly but smoothly.

I noticed an open box of packaged whole chickens and cornish hens. "They're going to spoil in this sun," I said aloud to no one in particular.

"Too late to worry about dat," Habbi said dryly. "Dese are de returns. When de expeeration date passes and de cheekens haf not been sold, dey get sent back here, where we recycle them."

"How do you recycle expired meat?" I asked quite confusedly.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." he answered.

I meandered my way closer to the machinery. I could hear Pete and Repeat's voices talking about what is done with the old meat -- something about fertilizer and "bio-mass" research were mentioned -- but I was too focused on the box of packaged whole chickens.

A stark sense of futility came over me as I thought about what I was seeing. These were not rows of drumsticks or wings, they were whole chickens who were raised, fed, killed, beheaded and befooted, plucked, gutted, cleaned, packaged, shipped and returned for discarding. They were large, plump and, in all likelihood, still perfectly good for roasting and eating. They sat in the refridgerated bins in area markets for a week or so, and remained unsold. I couldn't turn my head. These big birds died for nothing.
I could feel someone breath on my neck.

"Don't stare for too long at this waste," Frapple said. "or soon waste will be all you can see. I've seen it happen to others."

"It's just so.....sad," I muttered still staring into the box. "We're supposed to eat what we kill. We learn that when we're young. These were, in the end, slaughtered and thrown away."

"The butcher shops, restaurants and supermarkets can't prepare live chickens to each order," he said calmly. "These aren't lobsters, y'know. The best we can do is estimate the demand, and to match supply as close as possible without going under.
Don't worry."
he said as he put his hand on my shoulder, "the chickens don't know the difference." as a voice from the path above boomed out.

"Frapple!" Baja's voice boomed out from the path above. "Are you finished down there, yet?!"

"We'll be right up!" he called back. I turned to face him and he sort of smiled sheepishly.
"You'll be happy to know," he smiled, "that there's a box in the refridgerated truck that's being sent to a catfood plant. The meat's still good, it just can't be legal sold to people anymore. Baja doesn't like to waste anything either, okay?"

We walked back to the Jeeps and were soon on our way again.

It must have been three hours of rough trails, no trails, and inane conversation among our Jeep's compliment, before the lead truck came to another stop. Baja, Frapple and their front-seaters stepped out. Baja waved us all to join them.

"Gentlemen," he began, "We're getting near to where I believe Moby Chicken is hiding. I want you all to begin keeping a keen eye on our surroundings. We're looking for a large chicken, nearly the size of a turkey. She's got bright white feathers and a red 'BajaBird' tag on her left leg. If you see her, have the driver honk the horn once."

"Baja," came a voice from behind me. It was Hargus, a gutter/cleaner. "Forgive me, but it'll be getting dark soon. Shouldn't we be heading back to the farm before night falls?"

Frapple visibly bristled at the question.

"Baja knows what time it is, Hargus," he said sternly.

"We wont be heading back tonight," Baja assured us, "unless we find Moby Chicken today."

There were some groans. None of us had eaten since our chicken sandwiches at lunchtime, and we hadn't packed any food to take along on this little adventure. But, Baja had spoken, and the entire crew seemed resigned to the fact that we would likely be camping out tonight without dinner, or breakfast in the morning.

"In return for your loyalty," Baja interjected, probably sensing the hit to our collective morale, "every one of you will receive a double-sized Christmas bonus come December, and," he continued as mild cheers began to sound, "the man to first spot Moby Chicken will be paid one thousand dollars on top of it!"

The hazzahs and applause had turned nearly into a Marine Corps shoutfest. Nine employees high-fiving and carrying on like a highschool football team at a pep rally. Baja stood triumphantly. Frapple looked me in the eye after seeing that I was the only other team member struck silent by all of this.

Back into the Jeeps we piled and headed onward, all of us looking out for a big white chicken with a red tag on her left leg. This bird could be anywhere amid who knows how many hundreds of acres. My heart sank into my stomach, and it only felt emptier.

[To be continued....]

Posted by Tuning Spork at January 17, 2005 09:22 PM
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