Or Dunderbeck’s Machine Revisited
Most people are familiar with a metaphorical expression along the lines of: “You don’t want to know how the sausage is made ” which refers to some process, the end products of which one happily consumes while ignoring the possibility that the ingredients or ways of manipulating them may be harmful.
Butchers have always made sausage from scraps that wouldn’t pass muster if put on the table undisguised, compensating for lack of freshness and other flaws with strong spices. The situation only became worse (if not “wurst”) in the late 19th century when sausage making became an industrial process carried on out of sight in large meat packing plants instead of the town butcher shop where customers could see the manufacture and had frequent interaction with the sausage maker. That transition is satirized in the 1896 vaudeville song “Dunderbeck’s Machine” which I learned as a child (1950’s) along with other bits of lore warning of dangers widely believed to be obsolete.
Oh, Mr. Dunderbeck, how could ye be so mean,
To ever have invented that sausage meat machine?
The pussy cats and long-tailed rats, no more they will be seen,
They’re all ground up for sausage meat in Dunderbeck’s machine.
In Dunderbeck’s Machine, the protagonist invents a machine which turns “pussy cats and long tailed rats” into sausage at a fast clip; he accidentally gets trapped in his own machine and is turned into sausage. There are many urban legends, a few possibly true, of villains disposing of murder victims in sausage machines, and persistent rumors of dogs, old horses, animals that have died of disease and other unwholesome ingredients going into sausage. The Mad Cow disease epidemic in England can be traced to the use of parts of diseased cows in sausage making.
There are laws against such practices, and basically, we in the US (or Canada, or Great Britain) trust that they will be enforced when we put corporate kielbasa on the table. We assume, for example, that slaughterhouses do not turn a blind eye when animals too neurologically impaired to walk are inserted into the food stream. We really have no idea of the extent to which sausage factories, literal and figurative, cover up practices that harm the public, because we have never personally been in a sausage factory, except perhaps on a guided tour which omitted the uglier practices. Moreover, the information sources on which we rely are also steered into carefully chosen paths. There are parts of sausage factories that only come to light through the revelations of disgruntled employees, or through persistent investigative reporting.
All of which brings us to my metaphor of the “Restricted Zone in the Sausage Factory.” That is the part of any operation, be it a slaughterhouse, a political party, a hospital, a corporation, an educational institution … (the list could be prolonged ad infinitum) which those running the operation are particularly anxious to shield from the public eye, lest it adversely affect what is euphemistically termed “consumer confidence” and with it the bottom line.
A scientist or investigative reporter with a commitment to the truth knows well when she has strayed into this restricted zone. The powers that be will wax hysterical over minor breaches of confidentiality or threaten charges of criminal trespass, and if that is not sufficient to silence the whistle blower, they will do their best to discredit him and render him impotent by ruining a career.
It is dangerous territory, and the end result is often being ground to sausage meat in Dunderbeck’s machine, to say nothing of toxic sausage.
Photo from Mysterious Chicago