The U.S. meat industry's tarnished reputation after the mad cow disease crisis has driven some ranchers to a breaking point, in which they blame food safety issues on illegal immigrants. This essay investigates the activities of a group called Ranch Rescue, whose members “round up” illegal immigrants along the Arizona-Mexico border in order to turn them over to CBP Border Patrol. The group claims that ranching businesses are suffering due to the damage done to cattle and properties by the passage of illegal immigrants on borderlands and that these immigrants are real threats to food safety because they can bring diseases onto ranchlands. However, while these ranchers attempt to curtail illegal immigration under the pretense of protecting our food supply, other sectors of the food industry actively recruit illegal immigrants, reducing the efforts of this group to manifestations of unfounded racist fears. Many factors come into play in understanding this phenomenon, including the practices that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the effects of globalization on the meat industry, the changing nature of the relationship between humans and animals in ranching, and the changing relationship between Anglos and Latinos in the history of ranching in the American Southwest. The essay concludes that the ranchers involved with Ranch Rescue participate in Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject because they are attempting to attack entities that were once integral to the identity of ranching (and that are still integral to much of the U.S. food production industry). In fact, they are reacting to the post-BSE vilification of the beef industry by attempting to identify illegal immigrants as the real source of “contamination” by reasserting some of the boundaries dismantled by globalization (as argued by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri) in hopes of reestablishing the hegemonic position enjoyed by white, male, Christian ranchers.
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Research Article| April 01 2008
Lynn Marie Houston; Food Safety and the Abject: Mad Cow Disease and a Racist Rhetoric of Contamination in the Southwest. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2008; 107 (2): 373–386. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2007-072
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