Chicken Trucks

One of the small irritations in my small life is to get caught behind a chicken truck riding down the highway. This is unavoidable consequence of living near a chicken processing plant. Trucks from chicken farms all over north Georgia roll into Pine Mountain Valley on a conveyer belt called US Hwy 27, which is the road I travel every day. The chances that I will get behind one of them are about the same as betting on the sun rising in the east.

In case you didn’t know, chicken trucks stink. There is no polite way to say it. Truckloads of hogs headed to Mississippi are a vanilla scented candle compared to the loads of chickens rolling into my life.

Early this morning, I headed off to work and wound my way up out of the valley to the stop sign on Hwy 27 at FDR State Park. A truck came over the hill to my left. Head lights and cab marker lights glowing in the dark.

Great. Just what I need. I’m going to follow the aroma of chickens into town. At least it’s headed north and empty. But when it went by, it was a tanker. I was relieved.

About 10 seconds after I pulled out, I realized that my sense of relief was short-lived. Uncontrollable reflexes almost caused me to gag. This truck was not hauling chickens. It was hauling the guts and left over parts of chickens. The parts that do NOT go to KFC and Piccadilly Cafeterias. Heads. Feet. Scalded feathers. And what my Mama would call “innards”.

When you feed your pet with food that says “made with real chicken”, Fluffy is chowing down on puréed chicken pulp. Every time you sprinkle a little fish food into the top of your aquarium, your guppies are likely eating refined chicken innards. What else would you do with this stuff besides use it as a form of chemical warfare?

If pepper spray was not an option, aerosol cans of chicken innards would be an effective way to ward off would be attackers. It would not only burn out their eyes, it would make them easy to track. Just follow the stink.

I know this and am very familiar with the stench floating into my nostrils because I worked at a chicken processing plant in Athens one summer. Some scents you never forget. The tanker trucks were parked in a bay right next the lunchroom. A logic I never understood.

Inside the plant, long clear hoses passed overhead from the viscerating line. People dressed in white coveralls stood side by side, pressing vacuum nozzles into the bowels of chickens and sucking out the juices that made their way to the truck waiting to receive its load.

I’ve gutted a lot of animals in my time. Smells that can make a young boy squeamish. We butchered our own cows. We hunted and cleaned game. Rabbits stunk the worse. I’ve killed and ate chickens in the mountains of Mexico. But when thousands of chickens per hour are being prepared for consumption, the wretchedness can be overwhelming.

It all came back to me with one sniff this morning. Holding my coffee cup. Trying not to breath. Gag. Awuuh! Roll down the window. Worse. Roll up the window. Don’t spill the coffee. Baby diapers are more tolerable than this. I don’t know how to write down the sound a cat makes coughing up a hair ball, but it was kind of like that, only worse. For miles I tried to slow my pace and lag behind, but the stench lingered.

I am glad that my career took me another direction. I have a personal sympathy for those who work in the hanging shed, or on the cut-up line, or who suck out guts for their entire shift. At the plant I worked at, there were two ladies whose sole job was slitting throats for 8 hours a day. They were good with a knife. I thought about just how good they were with a knife and I always tried to be nice to them. These are good, hard working people who are trying to pay the bills and raise families on the backs of chickens.

The guy driving the truck in front of me is just doing his job. I know this. He doesn’t mean to share his load with everybody on the road. He sits up wind of the trailer behind him. Otherwise he would pass out at the wheel. I’m guessing that he has no nose hair left at this point. Hazard of the job. And, he probably gets cussed at when he pulls up to the pumps at the truck stop.

This is the price some unknown army of people pay so that you and I can sit at the Sunday dinner table and enjoy a platter of some fine buttermilk battered fried chicken. So Fluffy can have his Friskies. And Greta Guppy can swim in endless circles behind the glass. Life is good. It’s a little smelly at times. But good. I’ll try to keep that in mind next time I follow the chicken truck.