Amanda Giracca’s “The art of butchery” on Aeon
Full disclosure: Amanda Giracca is a Vela contributing editor, and a friend of mine from the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh. There. I am biased, super-biased. Still, as a discerning reader and an ethically uncertain meat-eater, I insist you read her phenomenal latest essay for Aeon. It skirts around familiar alarmist rhetoric about contemporary slaughterhouses and factory farms to reframe the ethical debate about eating animals in new terms: what does butchery mean to us as human beings, and what is lost when we no longer practice or witness it?
The act of personally butchering an animal – in this case, a squirrel – is deliberate, innate, and slow, and Giracca contrasts it to the absurd rapidity and dehumanizing machination of the “mass-production industry.” She writes, “In the time it took me to skin, butcher and cook my squirrel, nearly 10,000 cattle had been killed and processed in just one factory.”
No need for bombastic argumentation here – the facts speak for themselves. But Giracca moves beyond the terrain of industrial versus artisanal to explore the larger sociological and cultural meanings of our shift into “postdomesticity.” She argues that our lust for horror films and pornography is in part the result of a misplaced longing for the basics of sex and death we once witnessed on farms.
The voice here is thoughtful, compassionate, and probing, bringing a new dimension to debates long soggy with platitudes. Plus, this is a piece that connects the butchering of squirrels, our unsustainable meat-lust, pornography, and horror movies. Why are you not reading it right now? –Sarah
Sousan Hammad’s “A Map Of Jerusalem” on Words Without Borders
This month’s collection of new Palestinian writing on Words Without Borders immediately caught my attention because it was curated by Nathalie Handal, a poet I’ve long admired. I am fascinated by maps, both physical and figurative, and I was drawn to Sousan Hammad’s personal essay “A Map of Jerusalem.” Hammad’s piece traces one family’s map of exile and remembered places, and elucidates the way we can never quite recreate memories.
Out of love and pity, my mother would plant every pepper she could find, but none of them would ever grow into the tree that my grandmother longed for. Our garden was transformed into a metaphorical graveyard of memories.
As Hammad describes her attempt to locate her family’s past on the map her grandmother drew of their Palestinian homeland, we hear the voices of three generations of woman discovering what can be preserved and what cannot be recreated. Hammad’s writing is poetic and sharp-edged, carrying the reader through “a century of grief” to a delicate hope. She writes,
Maybe I misunderstood what she said. She is ninety years old after all. Strong, sure, but memory—they tell me—has no translation. I thought perhaps if she drew me another map she could recall the story from another angle.
Sierra Crane-Murdoch’s “Sugar Days” in The Virginia Quarterly Review
In VQR, Sierra Crane-Murdoch joins a migration of transient workers – or at least, people who work when they must – to North Dakota, where the annual sugar beet harvest is, apparently, some of the best casual/seasonal work going.
I love these kinds of stories – the ones that offer a window into a miniscule, often fleeting, subculture – and this latest entry into the genre doesn’t disappoint. Crane-Murdoch brings to life the weirdness of the night shift, where she and her colleagues use giant machinery to sort beets into piles, and the occasionally violent chaos of the tent city where many of the workers live for the season. She traces the history of the sugar beet harvest and its dominance in the sugar industry, and attaches some meaning to the whole ritual. Here’s a taste:
These days, Crystal Sugar hires or subcontracts 2,200 seasonal workers, 1,700 of them for only two to four weeks in October. The short season poses a different sort of hiring challenge and draws, as one might expect, a different sort of laborer. I would meet three kinds: unemployed and underemployed locals; retirees, bored or lacking pensions, who drove RVs from one temporary job to another; and travelers, like the ones I knew from Rock Creek. It was an odd assembly, a carnival of exiles, and it struck me that this was the new proletariat, unfaithful but adaptable and eternally adrift. If the American dream had not abandoned my fellow workers, they had abandoned it. They would not buy houses. They would not open bank accounts. They would move on to the next job, and the next, because the nation needed its hoboes.