Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Orville Redenbacher: Mass Murderer?

In her book, Raw Material: Producing Pathology in Victorian Culture (incidentally, one of Fosco's favorite academic books), Erin O'Connor describes how conditions in Victorian factories destroyed the human flesh of the workers:

This problematic relation, in which manufacture altered bodily composition, took a variety of forms: industrial disease manifested itself as an adaptation of parts, as when the skeleton deformed itself to fit a machine; as a mixing of human and industrial waste, as in metallic mucus or lumps of phlegmatic coal; and, most dramatically, as a chemical reaction between flesh and raw material. Copper poisoning, for instance, converted the worker into a kind of anatomical alloy; smelters absorbed so much metal that they acquired its chemical properties. They tasted like copper [...] and they even oxidized: as copper molecules fused with oxygen in the body's tissues the hair, gums, urine and stools all took on a greenish tint [...]. Likewise, matchmakers suffering from phosphorus poisoning became phosphorescent. As the phosphorous penetrated into the jaw and spread to the surrounding tissues of the head and neck, workers laboring under matchmaker's necrosis began to glow; indeed, with their luminously decomposing heads atop comparatively inert bodies, matchmakers with 'phossy jaw' were living lucifer matches in their own right.

Of course, this horrible tradition continued even into our own time with cotton workers lung and black lung disease. Even so, industry must be cleaner and safer now, right? Isn't there some sort of government regulatory agency that protects (American) workers? (Of course, I have no doubt that the poor workers in China are slathered in lead paint.)

But of course, industrial capitalism hasn't gotten any less evil--not even in the United States. Allow Fosco to call to your attention something called "popcorn workers lung," also known as (seriously!) "butter flavoring lung injury." Now, while buttery lungs may sound delicious, they're not: it turns out to be a horribly debilitating disase. According to the NYTimes, the disease

seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. Sufferers can breathe in deeply, but they have difficulty exhaling.

And yes, it can be fatal.

An article in the Times today calls attention to the fact that

exposure to synthetic butter in food production and flavoring plants has been linked to hundreds of cases of workers whose lungs have been damaged or destroyed.

And now, for the first time, popcorn lung has been diagnosed outside the factory: in a man who regularly ate microwave popcorn.

The man told Dr. Rose that he had eaten microwave popcorn at least twice a day for more than 10 years.

“When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much,” Dr. Rose said. “That’s heated diacetyl, which we know from the workers’ studies is the highest risk."

Fosco hates popcorn in all of its varieties, but he doesn't think popcorn lovers (or popcorn workers) deserve this kind of punishment. This is ridiculous. Is it really possible that butter-flavored popcorn cannot be made without crippling or killing workers? Fosco finds himself more and more in agreement with Theodor Adorno in Minima Moralia: "There is nothing innocuous left."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Margarine kills.