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Learning at the Pig

November 22nd, 2016


Diary 23 November 2000

Today was induction day at the bacon factory…I still feel I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. Quite nervous.

I pulled into the bacon factory car park on my first day filled dread and sick with nerves and anticipation, but that was pretty normal for me.

The first thing I heard when I opened my car door was the squealing of pigs. Pigs who knew they were going to die. I didn’t pause to examine the horror of this because I was running late for my first shift in the bacon room and was panicking like I was the one about to be killed and chopped into little pieces.

I changed in the ladies locker truck, washed my hands, put on a hairnet then walked into the bacon room. It was a vast shed housing complicated interconnected silver machines and conveyor belts. The workers looked like identical oompaloompas in white coats and overalls, green boots and blue hairnets. Silver ventilation tubes crossed the high ceiling and the lights were fluorescent. The room felt like a fridge and smelled damp and meaty. In short, it was exactly like a factory on the news except there was no visiting politician in an orange safety vest wandering around patronising people.

I wished I had a job doing filing in an office. But I was wearing gumboots for a reason, and that reason was splatter.

The first task I was assigned to was picking up bacon and putting it back down again on Slicer 2.

I’d always assumed that factory work would be extremely fast paced and busy, that the work would be monotonous but require manual skill and dexterity. I had neither of those attributes so was quite worried. In fact, the pace on Slicer 2 was manageable and I spent a lot of time staring at the conveyor belt, waiting for more bacon to appear.

Unfortunately, the relatively gentle pace did not mean I was competent.

I learn well by reading a textbook and then doing practise questions with answers in the back of the book. For hands-on activities like assembling a tent or making an icing piping bag I need to practise myself and have a manual or YouTube instructional video to refer to. I do not learn well just by observing other people complete the task. I need specific and comprehensive directions. In every practical job I’ve ever had the people training me have found me frustratingly slow on the uptake.

Picking up bacon and putting it back down again may sound easy but there were numerous things I needed to learn, many of which I didn’t.

How and when to clean bacon

I easily mastered the first part. Bacon is easily cleaned. If a piece of bacon is dropped on the floor, all you need do is dunk it in some special soapy water. It will emerge from this baptism cleansed and safe to eat. However, I never really mastered when we should do this. Sometimes we dip-cleaned all the bacon that fell on the floor, sometimes we chucked it in the scraps bin. Why? Dunno.

There are many different baconish things

The name ‘the bacon room’ suggests a monotony of product but in fact, we worked with many types of bacon and baconesque food items. Some of them were recycled bacon born of former bacon rashers that were squashed and remodeled into kind-of bacon shapes. I quickly realised that the quality of the bacon is inversely proportional to how fancy its name is.

What can be wrong with bacon

As we weighed the bacon we had to keep an eye out for substandard bits and discard them. Some bacon had weird line marks. I was told these marks were made when the meat was injected with a salt solution. Another problem to watch for was dark patches in the meat; these were bruises. Horrifyingly, one day when we found lots of meat with dark patches my co-worker remarked, ‘The boys have been mucking around on the kill-line again’. I have no idea if this was true.

Don’t worry though bacon eaters, you shouldn’t see these substandard bacon rashers as they were pulped, remolded into the shape of a dick and balls and marketed as Country Style Ranch Rashers or something.

How to whisper the packing machines

The plastic in the packing machines often got tangled up, or the machines didn’t seal packets properly. Most of my co-workers were able to tinker with the machines and get them working again. I never understood what they were doing. On a few occasions I tried to learn how to replace a roll of packing but I never mastered it, primarily because I was too slow and someone would always take over because I was wasting time.

Never stand around doing nothing

I was told not to let the bosses see me doing nothing. When in doubt, make a box, I was told. So when my assigned machine was on the fritz and I was sensibly staying out of the way while someone else fixed it, I made huge piles of boxes with nothing to put in them so that no-one would feel bad about paying me $11 an hour to be idle.

Safe meat storage

The bacon factory took food safety very seriously. As was pointed out at my induction, a food poisoning scandal could shut down the factory and ruin the town, people’s lives and possibly a galaxy far away. But even so, on the factory floor the rules seemed nebulous to me, although that could be because I am a slow learner. I did write in my diary that the week before the safety inspection we suddenly started ‘practising’ following a set of rules I had never heard of before that involved constantly taking trolleys back to the chiller and wrapping everything in lots of plastic. I longed for a piece of paper with some Standard Operating Procedures. I’m sure they existed.

What to do next

To my last day in the bacon room I spent some portion of the day hovering uncertainly, hoping someone would kindly tell me what to do. Each day I was assigned to a different machine, with a different team of people, working on a different product. This provided much needed novelty value but it also meant that I never really understood what was going on.

In short, the bacon room was not a good environment for me to showcase my skills or implement my preferred learning style. In the two months I worked there I did not reach a level of competence I was satisfied with.

However, not knowing what to do with the bacon (although I worked out pretty quickly that picking it up and putting it back down again was almost always involved) was the least of my problems. What was my real issue? Hint: They’ve got two legs and you go to jail if you eat one.

Next time at the Pig: Sexual harassment

Posted in The Pig, Work

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