British photographer Mishka Henner has produced some disturbing aerial images of cattle feedlots in Texas, composed of hundreds of high-resolution satellite images stitched together into large format prints. This could be the final push to put me off meat.
The work is similar to that of Irish artist David Thomas Smith, who weaves thousands of Google Maps screen grabs into intricate designs mimicking Persian rugs. Both artists compile publicly available satellite photographs, then artfully manipulate them (Henner saturates select colors to emphasize the gore of the abominable feedlots).
Neither photographer actually touches a camera.
The viewer sees landscapes usually hidden from public view due to their enormous scale or remote zip codes or agri-business public relations controls. This is the reality that restaurant chain Chipotle skewers in their haunting new commercial.
Looking at the finished work is reminiscent of the child’s I Spy book series. Those tiny pointillist dots are actually 1,440 pound steer. The patchwork grid-lines are confining pens.The acid green and blood red swirls are waste lagoons.
Ninety-seven percent of the beef consumed in the United States comes from feedlots like these, and as the world appetite for cheap meat increases, this industrial scale ranching will become the global norm.
These vast tracts of pens and troughs are where herds of up to 100,000 steer spend the last months of their short (12 to 18-month) lives gaining up to 4 pounds a day on a diet of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics, according to statistics from website Edible Geography.
Cattle are ruminants, designed to feed on grass, not chemically treated corn. They are meant to graze and roam in herds, not be constrained and confined like tourists queued up for a roller coaster at Ferrari World.
Think there’s anything to the old saw “You are what you eat”? Maybe it’s time to opt out of the Big Food machine. Eat only grass-fed beef, or no beef at all.
Images of feedlots are from Mishka Henner’s website