The increasing frequency and surprising breadth of product recalls in recent memory—spanning decapitating child seats, exploding laptop batteries, self-strangling cribs, fecal spinach, undeclared peanut butter cup candies in “Homestyle” ice cream, lead-laden Chinese Barbies, and “My First Kenmore” Play Stoves with “tip-over hazard”—makes it easy to forget or overlook the actual societal machinery that whirs into action whenever and only if a mass-consumed product is recalled. There are, like, people who have to touch the pooped-upon broccoli, and, stranger still, people who have to find the tiny metal fragments peppered in the Pokemon Valentine lollipops.
The recent USDA-ordered recall of 143 million pounds of beef made the same headlines to which the wires have grown accustomed: mad cow threat; animal abuse caught on tape; school lunches in jeopardy; fast-paced, globe-spanning sleuthing by the gumshoes at the USDA to find the offenders of the meat mishap. But what does a clockwork bureaucratic machine actually, physically do when the meat hits the fan? Who swoops in to stop the sirloin, to chuck the chuck? What do they do with 143 million pounds of maltreated, unloved meat?
In one case, at least, thousands of pounds of beef originally destined for the Seattle Public School District were literally buried on Monday, taken to the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in tractor trailers and interred in the topsoil. Seattle’s King5 News reports: “The boxes of meat were on pallets, shrink wrapped with a note saying ‘unfit for human consumption.’ After being dumped, the boxes were bulldozed into the landfill, buried and covered with topsoil.” There is a strange finality to thousands of pounds of meat sent to lie a few feet below the surface of the earth for some measure of eternity, even if that meat may have come from cows videotaped being abused by slaughterhouse workers. The question of how other school districts and food service providers around the country who are grappling with the magnitude of the recall have come to actually dispose of their abused meat remains unresearched.
The slow, angry process by which food makes its way from vine and carcass to hungry mouth has never been romantic, yet there is a strange immediacy and helplessness that accompanies those instances when that process is interrupted, even in the smallest way. A Waffle House location outside of Nashville, Tenn., found itself closed for exactly one hour in the middle of the day on Monday, with signs from the State Department of Revenue announcing the restaurant’s unpaid taxes hanging next to a sign advertising that the House was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As posted on local web hub The Tennessean, the story waxes Heartland Hitchcock: an incorrect crediting of an account with SouthEast Waffles, Inc., the company that owns the Waffle House location in question as well as 112 others, led to the restaurant’s initial closing by the state and, an hour later, the brisk visit by a man and woman in a pickup truck who presented some papers, removed the signs, and left hurriedly, declining to comment. According to Tennessean staff writer Colby Sledge, a “fresh pot of coffee” was put on as employees shuffled back to work, and the “mugs and plates” of customers whose meals were interrupted remained on their tables, unmoved by the agitating events of the midday. “When they tell you to go, you do,” said Waffle House human resources supervisor Brenda Trujillo.
Reader reactions to the story on The Tennessean evince the weird tragedy of the situation: reader “Taxbuster” writes, “Someone has egg on their face,” a pithy remark that has been “recommended” twice according to the site’s counter. User “justme0716” writes: “What has six breasts and three teeth? Graveyard shift at the wally hoo.” Last I checked, the story has attracted four comments in aggregate–four more than a story on the beating death of an elderly woman at a Memphis senior living facility had garnered.