Friday, July 22, 2011

day 22, we are surrounded

When you are biking across the country, it is almost inevitable that at some point, you will bike by a meat processing plant. The chicken plants you pass in Indiana are hard to handle, but you recognize the smell from the time you drove by the Tyson and Purdue plants on the DelMarVa penninsula last summer. Today is different. Unlike Tyson and Purdue, there is no sign in front of this plant. You've been noticing it in the distance on Route 19 for awhile. The smell - no, the stench - has gotten increasingly worse over the last half mile. You're riding right into it, thanks to an unforgiving wind. Last you knew, it was around 90 degrees. The strength and quality of the smell make it clear that this is not a chicken plant. You continue to look for a sign as you pass the sprawling nondescript warehouse like buildings. By now, even though you're trying to breathe through your mouth and pedal faster, you are gagging. Not the half-cough water-down-the-wrong-pipe gagging, but the kind that makes you think you might see your red Gatorade and Fig Newtons again. Your thought about this is that vomiting will only slow you down. You remember how in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, he was unable to gain access or gather much information at all about beef slaughter and processing. But what you see next suggests anything but secrecy. A truck passes you and as it pulls ahead an odor far worse than the one that's been lingering trails behind. You hold your breath, look up, and immediately convince yourself it's not what you think. But Aaron confirms it at the next stop light: hooves protruding from the top, suggesting a pile. At a bar later, a farmer tells you he's lost eighteen sows because of this heat. You think back to the truck.

When you get on the other side of the plant, the smell begins to fade, but not entirely. You try to convince yourself it has to be gone given how the wind is blowing. For awhile, you fear the plant you can see miles away in the next town will also be this bad, but as you get closer, the strong yeasty aroma it marked by signs for a corn ethanol company. Still, as you walk your bike from dinner to the park where you'll camp just as it's getting dark, the beef plant smell remains in the air, even seven miles away.
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