Example: Symbolism in Feed

Red and blue substances in transparent test tubesWhile thinking about the chapter “A Day in the Country,” out of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, I started to consider what the filet mignon farm might symbolize. Anderson’s description of it stands out in my mind as needing some interpretation. When Anderson writes,

“…and in some places where the genetic coding had gone wrong and there, in the middle of the beef, the tissue had formed a horn or an eye or a heart blinking up at the sunset, which was this brag red…,”

I have to stop and consider why Anderson is grossing me out so intensely.

As a reader, I am shocked and horrified by the grotesqueness of how meat is “raised” in Titus’s world. In my own life, I often times struggle with my desire for a tasty steak, knowing that the meat industry can be quite inhumane for the sake of a profit. Because of this, I try to limit my meat consumption and, when I do eat meat, do my best to eat organic and free range. But this, to me, seems intolerable, unnatural, and scary, and Anderson uses imagery that suggests he thinks it’s scary, too. What’s scarier to me is that Titus thinks nothing of this gross scene; meat hedges are totally normal to him. This idea of “normalcy” makes me wonder what our founding fathers would think of our meat industry today, compared to what they knew and how they raised cattle back then. Perhaps they would be as disgusted with our meat industry as we are with Titus’s.

Titus says of the filet mignon farm,

“I like to understand how things are made, and to understand where they come from.”

We don’t technically “make meat”; we raise cattle. When Titus says the word “make,” Anderson shows the reader that meat is just another product, like a shoe or a watch. I think that Anderson is using meat as a symbol to show how people are viewed by the corporations in Titus’s world. In today’s modern meat industry, cattle are not seen as animals with “feelings”; they are seen as products. In Titus’s world, people are not seen as people with dreams, but as potential customers and money-spenders with hopes and dreams to be exploited.

When I think about meat, I think about something I use for my own gain; meat is tasty; meat is nutritious and sustains me—yet commercial meat processing is a very nasty process. I think Anderson is telling us that the corporations look at their customers worse than cattle—they see potential customers as “meat,” which the corporations feed off of to sustain their “money” diet. And, just like we raise cattle to fulfill our meat needs today, people (consumers) in Titus’s world are “made” to consume the goods/products of the corporations.

The filet mignon farm can be seen as an extended metaphor for how people in Titus’s world are “raised” by the corporations. School, run and operated by the corporations, is not interested in teaching the whole student how to think for him/herself; School™ is interested in making a good consumer. Titus tells us in “The Dimples of Delglacey”:

“Now that School™ is run by the corporations, it’s pretty brag, because it teaches us how the world can be used, like mainly how to use our feeds.”

Then, at the farm, Titus tells us about the meat growing process:

“They had these tubes, they were bringing the tissue blood, and we could see the blood running around, up and down.”

Titus and his friends are wired into the feed and their brains are grown from birth to know what a good consumer looks like, what’s cool, what’s not, etc. The tubes can be interpreted as the feed, while the blood can be interpreted as the content—commercials, banners, etc. They are raised to be consumers, not citizens. They literally don’t know anything outside of the feed, which is why Violet stands out as such a unique character (she knows life outside of the feed).

Finally, the end of the chapter leaves us disturbed and wondering why Violet brings up the topic of death after a fun day in the country with her boyfriend. The foreshadowing here—the filet mignon farm as an extended metaphor for how corporations grow consumers; the symbolism for the consumer as an end-product of “meat”; the grotesque images where the genetic code went wrong; all these elements are bad enough without Violet bringing up the topic of death. When we stop and think about it, we can begin to make some predictions that something is dreadfully wrong with Violet because 1) we have a happy date in a grotesque setting, and 2) we know that Violet’s feed is messed up. And we know the author is offering us some foreshadowing when we can stop and make predictions. And predictions, we know, help us move from page to page through the plot as we go about the task of checking the accuracy of those predictions.

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