Once, Mary Had A Little Lamb

Forlornly, she dragged her feet; as she neared the green playground of the schoolyard she turned around and looked back in vain hope – nothing; that little white figure did not follow her to school.

Sadly she trotted off to her class.   

Somewhere in the humid regions of Alabama, the lamb chewed on what it thought was grass but tasted way different. It trotted alongside her friends looking for the familiar face or even a green pasture but all that was there were huge brown walls and a shiny floor. Little did the lamb know that the floor was moving too. Before the little fellow realized this, it reached a huge cylinder with a small opening. Curiously, the lamb peaked out hopeful to see some grassland or a caring hand of love but instead saw a huge man walking towards her; in a split second he raised a rod and pointed it at her head, a small pop followed and the lamb crumpled to the floor, lifeless … what followed next was a nightmare.

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Nina Stein-White’s smile widened as she introduced us to Flame and Daisy grazing freely on the field as we peered through our rain-coat hoods and clicked photos. The cows and their young ones enjoyed the light drizzle and the scatter of sun rays on the green grasslands of Bobolink farms; some seemed to be posing for the camera of us urban creatures who were trying to capture the beauty of nature and the natural in our digitalized diaries. Jonathan White had proudly explained the cheese culture, their farming philosophies and then trotted off to feed the pigs and the chickens; Nina’s eyes twinkled as she saw him walk off and turned back to talk to us again.

That same twinkle was missing from the eyes of that huge man as he coldly stared at the white figure on the floor, alive but helpless; a hook automatically swung in from a huge machine and pulled the lamb up, upside down. He gripped the sharp, long blade, avoiding a direct look in the eyes of the hanging body and made the fatal move. The warm red liquid splattered on his clothes and some drained off through a vacuum pipe. Before he recovered from his actions the hanging carcass began moving to the other room and another innocent head peaked in through a huge tunnel behind; he turned, picked up the loaded rod and walked towards it. As he lifted the rod, feeling cold and murderous, a twitch in his wrist made him stop, stare at the little creature in front of him; that simply drained all the energy out of him for his work. This had turned into a frequent routine since his carpal tunnel syndrome had worsened. His was supposed to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the country considering all the non-fatal injuries that happened at work, but it wasn’t something he was proud of. He had seen his friends suffer, some had severe back problems, pinched nerves, and two others had even lost their fingers. If only the company had slowed the work line, accidents would not have been prone in the meat processing units but the profit oriented devils had deaf ears to such complaints. It was one those days when thoughts started pouring in like water through a cracked dam. Tim ‘s mind was reeling back to the time he remembered as a kid when he played on his grandparent’s farm, a tiny little spread of land in a village near the river watching the elders tend to the animals roaming freely on the pasture. He had big dreams of the common man – he would expand the farm, plant an orchard, sell his goats and sheep to the local butcher and make a big family of his own. He would trade his crops and fruits to the local people, mint some money and nourish his sons and daughters with education, a well deserved upbringing that he had missed as a child. But all the dreams had shattered into bits and pieces when the corporate giants took over their farms and villages and replaced them with commercial slaughterhouses. Rapid consolidation of the meat industry had led to huge automated monster like butchers to kill as many as 400 cattle per hour, the production lines at double to triple the speed to keep pace with the turnover posing a severe threat of the spread of feces and bacteria from the carcasses intestines onto the finished meats; this because the workers were unable to keep up with speed of the line. He had heard about the horrors of the outbursts of food borne illnesses in his country, to an extent that he and his family had stopped eating meat themselves. What often led him to lose his sleep was the way these animals were treated, the fodder for them was some genetically modified stuff they claimed to be ‘animal food’ but didn’t look anything  of that sort while the smell that reeked from the cattle stands was enough to make any stomach roil. Where normally ten cows or lambs could stand they now held 60, cramped against each other. He had heard worse situations from his acquaintances in the poultry section where the chickens were all huddled in small cages with hardly a space to move a wing their beaks nipped off so they do not hurt each other. Hens were murdered in huge gas chambers, some doused alive in boiling hot water. The company he worked for proudly stood as one of the largest meat producing company in the country but he well knew how much that had hampered the food chain. His mind screamed in agony at the government’s ignorance, the blind eye of the consumers and the future of their children wherein farms, fruits and farm animals would exist only in stories and rhymes.
A loud siren that brought the day to an end made Tim come back to sense. Blood and gore covered his body from the robotic slicing he was now accustomed to. He washed himself clean not speaking to his colleagues as they exited the factory. He had made a firm decision a few days ago. He would save up enough money, moves upstate, buy a small piece of land and begin anew. He would create his own small world of fruits and animals as natural as they should be, and do his bit to metamorphose the carnivores around into locavores. That seedling of an idea had given him a fresh new perspective towards life… He walked home looking at the horizon where the sun was setting illuminating the clouds nearby with a golden glow. The last few rays he thought with a sigh, the last few rays of hope.

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A few leagues north, the sun had already set but that didn’t make any difference as huge yellow and red billboards, blue and white neons cast bright lights onto the cramped streets below. Families and friends stood in a line patiently contemplating whether to go for a number 5 classic or a number 8 combo. Huge tv screens fired one advertisement after another of ‘fresh fruit’ slush, crispy chicken buckets or healthy wraps for the calorie conscious ones. Cash registers clinked, fountain sodas hissed and a group people walked out clutching paper bags and cups of various sizes and shape. They reached into the red and white bag and pulled a perfectly circular sandwich with a crispy cutlet, a fitting circle of tomato and a well shaped leaf of crisp iceberg lettuce, their canines and molars digging out huge hungry bites of the burger.

Note – this article has been inspired by Bobolink farms and the names of the farm owners are factual. The story has been written in a dramatized format and the names and characters are fictitious bearing no resemblance whatsoever. The statistical data mentioned is based on researches and reviews during the locavore movement and farm to table struggles, New York 2010 and resources have been provided on the blog)

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6 Comments

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  1. Viraj, I have to say your writing is always erudite and make me to learn at least 3 4 new words 🙂

  2. Stunning as the word goes. That was very well written though.

  3. The thought of lamb not following mary to the school was very touching.. but later it was eased. thanks for this knowledgeable note

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