Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

watch overshare: the links.net story contact me

links.net : vita : swat : thesis

> food :

behind a basket of potatoes in a city retailer's shop is a system that has brought it from a farmer who produced it perhaps hundreds of kilometers away. the potatoes have been bought, washed, sorted, graded, sacked, transported, assembled and distributed to the shop by the various specialists engaged in that work.
- marketing, FAO, page 11

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 22:12:50 -0500 (EST)
From: "Ethan B. Holland"
To: justin
Subject: frozen food answers

> that frozen food storage place you worked at,

> how much space was there? how much food (is it possible to estimate?)
200,000 square feet
7 million and a half cubic feet

about 100,000 cases a day outbound
about 100,000 cases a day inbound
(a case is like six to ten boxes of frozen food, six half gallons of
breyers...etc...more and less food depending on the brand name)

> how long would food remain there?
-turnover 13 turns per year
-food stays a little under 1 month
-3 and 1/2 weeks on average

> what states (of america) were served by your particular facility?
-They deliver directly to delaware, maryland, pennsylvania, new jersey, virginia, north carolina, south carolina, west virginia, ohio
-Service in every state except 3 east of mississippi river

> were there sister facilities associated with that operation?
-5 warehouses in various states along the east

> what was the security there like?
-typical electric security system
-contract out local company for guards
-enclosed fence
-place is open and running 20 hours a day/ six days a week
-you walk physically through a guard house (only entrance) and sign in to get into the facility

not security, but interesting info:
-we clocked in using hand scanners. you first enter in your id number. then, you place your hand on a piece of metal, which I think scans your infrared levels. the id number makes it an easier match for the computer than just a random hand i suppose. the purpose for this hand scanner was less for security and more to keep fellow employees from clocking each other in by punching their buddies time cards...

> what were your duties? as a human being. what was handled by machines?
-everything has a human attendant to at least watch over it
-Biggest automation is the automatic sorter which reads the UPC symbol and sorts out the shipment orders to be placed on palletts which go in the trucks
-50% automated
-140 people in place

My impression of the auto sorting mechanism was as follows: The orders are placed by each supermarket and placed into the computer. The computer then concatonates the order into one massive order, which is sent to the "pickers" in the inner freezer which is kept below zero (the outer freezer is just below freezing, imagine a castle with another castle inside). The pickers then grab the bulk amount of each item and place them onto a conveyor. At this point in the process, a picker is going to grab the entire day's amount of ice cream or whatever food he is stationed near. The picker is not worried about individual stores. So, all the food has a UPC sticker on it and as it goes down the conveyor belt a machine reads the UPC and sorts it automatically into the correct shipment. Imagine 200 cases of vanilla ice cream floating down a conveyor belt...the sorting machine knows it needs 30 for a SuperFresh in Ohio...so it grabs the 30 items by reading the UPC, puts it onto the appropriate conveyor belt, and then moves onto the next order or next item. It greatly improves the efficiency on the human end.

My job was as a "mezzanine worker." I was at the far end of the sorted conveyor belts. About eight stations were located one story above the warehouse floor, suspended by huge metal frameworks. Sorted food would travel the length of the warehouse along rollers (which were also above the floor) and arrive at these stations for packing onto pallets which would be loaded onto the trucks. At the beginning of the day, each station worker would receive a list of the day's shipments for their station. The shipments were each organized both on paper and physically on the conveyor belt by categories (which boiled down to ice cream v. non-ice cream for all intents and purposes, along with seafood). Ice cream was nice to know because it is easily stackable, and seafood is listed because its expensive and needs to be accounted for. The mezzanine workers have to initial that they have stacked all the seafood for each order, so that the warehouse could track the seafood in case in got lost. Knowing how much ice cream was in a shipment was basically just a nice mental note for the workers, because it prepared us for the load ahead. If a shipment was all ice-cream, we were much happier. I don't know why the warehouse management really itemized ice cream though.

The mezzanine stations each had an elevator next to the conveyor belt. I'll try to describe these elevators... Imagine a three and a half foot square flat surface which can be raised and lowered. Now imagine this square comprised of rollers (so the finished stack can be rolled of the lowered elevator). That was the elevator in a nutshell.

A thin piece of plywood was placed onto the elevator (enabling the pile to move smootly along the rollers). On top of this piece of plywood, a heavy plastic pallet was placed (enabling forklifts to carry the completed pallet later). (To help us make a nice, square pile of food, a 90 degree wall lay at the far corner of the elevator. Thus, the left side and backside of the pile were initially supported. But, once the elevator was lowered, the support fell away. It was up to the food to hold itself up.) We stacked the food onto the elevator, trying to lock the food in place with other food, lowering the elevator as the pile grew (hence the reason for us being one story up in the air). The pile of food would grow and was lowered until the pallet was at a designated height. This was the predetermined height of the inside of a tractor trailer. Interestingly, a shipment might consist of more than one pallet of food, and therefore our preliminary list of shipments also included the number of pallets we would need for each order (figured out by a computer earlier). Pretty neat that the computer could know the mass of the food to such an extent as to tell us how many piles we were aiming for...but this was crucial to the trucking lines to know, since they needed to plan the truck's cargo.

The end of each shipment was designated by a big red "X" sticker on the last food item (humans had stuck the sticker on earlier). This let us know that the pile was done, and we would affix our own stickers to our pile, which contained information (english and numbers, and upc) telling the fork-lifts which truck needed the shipment (albeit that each individual case is also labeled with this information in case of spills or lost items, we still labeled the entire pile so it could be read from the side). After finishing our pile, we would hit a big green button labeled "send" and the elevator would descend its final foot down to the larger conveyor belt on the ground floor, and then roll its contents onto the conveyor. This was the crucial part of the pile's life, because this is when most pallets would fall... So prior to sending our pile out, we would jump down and wrap it with duct tape. If the pile fell, we had to jump down and rebuild it as it rolled toward the "Big Wrapper.."

The pile would then travel down the ground-level conveyor belt and get in line to be shink-wrapped. An enormous machine (a story tall) would wrap huge sheets of saran-wrap type stuff around the pile. I almost got wrapped once...the machine would make a great ending to a Jean-Claude VanDamme movie, but there are lasers which serve to both measure the pile (as to not waste a full pallet's wrap on a half-height pallet) and to avoid people getting wrapped (you could conceivably turn the machine on initially with a person already inside and wrap them, but once its going, it wouldn't get you).

The huge stacks of labeled, shrink-wrapped food were then placed to wait to be loaded onto the trucks. The trucks were the coolest part of the freezer (in the slang sense) because I did not even realize that they were trucks until my third day at work. Because the freezer is so enormous and has no windows, one can become fairly disoriented. The trucks would back into their holding dock so tightly, and with an additional seal applied, and huge halogen lights illuminating the interior of the truck, no seam was visible. Therefore, what is actually the cargo hold of an eighteen wheeler appears to be no more than a large storage well lit closest for the food. The garage-door like pull-down doors which close the finished seal before the trucks pull away seemed to merely be the closet's doors. Eerie, considering I walked around in one of the trucks without even knowing it more than once to fix a crooked stack of food.

The mezzanine workers (and everyone else for that matter) worked against their order lists, not the time clock. Therefore, one day might only be six hours of work, while another might be thirteen (depending on the shipments). At the time, I arrived for work at four in the morning and usually got off at two or three in the afternoon. The plant changes often from 24 shift work to random weekly schedules. I don't have my schedule anymore, but I remember having to go into work anywhere from 2:30 in the morning to eight o'clock in the morning during a given week's time. Work weeks rotated between 6, 5, and 4 days (kind of a "week A" week B" "week C" kind of thing). It made sleeping very difficult. However, I think the warehouse went to a normal 24 hour shift work schedule (three eight hour shifts) after I left, and then abandoned it for a new schedule which I don't know about. That place was the Harvard of manual labor.

they recycle like mad. they have a machine which squishes up all the old saran wrap stuff into these incredibly dense squares of plastic as big as me (which are cool cause you can lift them by yourself anyway). also, keep in mind that we stack cases, not individual boxes of food. thus, a case can break and a box of food may fall on the floor without any actual food getting tainted. these stray boxes are collected and compiled into new cases. broken wooden pallets are rebuilt by a separate group of workers outside whose sole job is to carpenter the dead pallet.

Trucks are rented I think (at least 43 trucks and 80 trailers) but still have the Burris logo on the side. Computers LCD's protrude from the truck's exterior, monitoring climate and stuff. The freezer is comprised of both a trucking and a storage business. So they charge to truck stuff in to be stored, charge again as a separate company to store, and then truck em back to be sold.

That's about all I can think of. Hope it helps. Good luck.


Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 01:00:43 -0500 (EST)
From: "Ethan B. Holland"
To: justin
Subject: food: i forgt abt cameras

Cameras everywhere! Panopticon. Holy shit! I forgot.

Dude, there are literally cameras every five yards. Each mezzanine worker (and other worker as well) has a camera set up facing right at them. Here's the deal. The conveyor belt which sends the food down to us stretches out further than the workers can see. But, if the line of food gets backed up to a certain point, a red light (like a cop car) starts going off at your station and a buzzer starts going wild. For real. And then a voice comes over the loud speaker and says "Station #2, get your line moving." I can't believe I forgot about that. But don't get me wrong, it doesn't feel like big brother completely. Some of the dudes slack off and hold everyone else up (see below) so the workers actually appreciate the surveilance at times cause the union can use it to complain about shit and disgruntled employees can justify that "jones over there is a lazy piece of shit." It goes back and forth between very hostile and very funny. My trainer, a dude who had been working at the plant for over twenty five years, was friends with the foreman and once he said, "Ethan, watch this...." and he flips off the camera, without doing anything else conspicuous...and the voice said, "I saw that!" and laughed. so you gotta choose your passion of the day regarding the surveilance. but you certainly are aware that you are being watched.

I also forgot, there were actually two elevators at each mezzanine station, so that a worker could stack two pallets at a time based on stackability of product as it came down the line (believe it or not that shit was hard to stack in a nice level way, and orders were usually more than one pallet in size, so two piles at once was easier). Also, two elevators allowed people to work in pairs if necessary. There was usually at least one floater who would help out anyone who was behind. Orders went out at the same time, divided up so that each worker had the same total amount more or less at the end of the day. For instance, one day each station might have twelve orders. Each order size is different, but the day's total equals out between worker. So for one order, you might be the quick easy dude, but the next one, you're lifting a ton (we averaged tons and tons of food a day per person). The deal is that each station's relative "Order #1" goes out at the same time. "Order #2" can't go out until everyone has finished number 1. That keeps the weak worker from staying all day and night in a factory, and it keeps people working. No one can go on towards freedom of the next order (termed a "pass" actually within the business) until everyone is done with that number.



Ethan B. Holland
Gratuitous Bandwagon Signature Quote

Wyatt/Captain America (reads from wall):
"If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Billy (in reply):
That's a humdinger.
I'm gettin' a little smashed man. A little smashed...
Mmmm. Wow, it's hot in here. Chicks man.

-From Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider"

Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 23:38:38 -0500 (EST)
From: "Ethan B. Holland"
To: justin
Subject: more food woo-hoo!

Round 2...ding ding ding.....

> can i post up what you said?

-yeah, you can post it or use it in the thesis as is. that's fine.
mentally though, i am using the voice i would use to talk to you, not the
internet world or academia.

> how many stories tall was the warehouse? how high the ceilings?
-i'll get back to you, i don't want to exagerrate what is already a worthy

> what did it feel like to be in there?
-it felt like a set for a jackie chan movie or a jean claude van damme movie (or Goldeneye!). surreal environment. i was definately waiting for some dude to come running down the classic factory yellow steel grate walkways above my head with some chick in a headlock. it was incredible that the machinery around really DID something. it looked like a huge frozen set. the roar of the rollers is one of my more vivid memories. it really sounds like the stomach of a very powerful being. like being in the ocean in a storm...you know it can whoop your ass if it wants to. -in addition to being an emormous, loud place, it was also a freezing cold place. each worker is issued a full blizzard suit to wear to work. under that, you wear long underwear and jeans and a sweatshirt, etc... you have to wear extra socks and get insulated boots, or your feet get cold. you get a pair of glove liners, plus thick rubber work gloves. you wear a hunting-cap hat liner (its even made of red plaid) which has elmer-fudd flaps for over your ears, and on top of that, you wear a hard hat. so when you dress for work, you feel in character.
-the freezing cold work environment (especially at that scale-hello electric bills!) is very sublime in the summer time. imagine working in sub-freezing temperatures for ten hours and then walking out into the middle of a blistering july afternoon when you are finished (since you go to work at 4am). the feeling on your cheeks is unique. the phenomena of peeling off your blizzard suit and strolling across the parking lot to your car as your face swells up and your eyes soak in the sun. getting into your car to drive away (now wearing your sneakers) you feel the ghost of the work boots and you adjust to the idea of letting your chapped lips sit out in the summer sun later that afternoon after previously wishing for warmth all day while they were cold inside.
-the first day after work was a unique feeling. i vividly remember pulling up to the Hardee's drive-thru after my first day of work in my long underwear with a t-shirt over it (like a lumberjack when the temperature was 98 degrees outside) and ordering the extra value meal with coke. my whole face was numb. i was on the way to the beach. i felt like time and seasons didn't exist.
-also, i need to mention the picker area...the huge inner freezer called the "box." The cold (below zero) knocks your breath away in a slow punch. you feel it sucking your air, and you know that its freezing cold in there, but you have been working at freezing temps all day anyway, so you don't get an initial shock, but you know that its cold... huge cranes (more like elevators) whisk along this interior freezer, which was not built with pedestrian traffic in mind. the aisles are very narrow and there is a track on the floor. the cranes whip up and down this track, to get to the food. they go North, South, East and West by the way, along 90 degree "blocks" (like a city block in design) of storage. the cranes could chase you down very successfully if they wanted. and the cool part! the cranes go up and down as well. in fact, if you were driving the crane, altitude would be irrelevant to your perspective. since the "box's" aisles were designed to be the width of the crane, and each "story" of food is individually the same height of the crane, you could be zipping along twenty feet above the ground and feel just as if you were at ground level (nice shelves of food lining your path). so pedestrians need to keep their eyes open in the box.

> was it cyber? industrial-era?
-it wasn't too much of a cyber place. rather it was the combination of both a giant corpse of a machine and an ant-hill. The corpse part refers to the coldness (both literal and aesthetical) of the steel windowless dead structure, and the ant-hill refers to the little people swarming around on the fork-lifts below me as I stacked food.
-technically, it was very industrial in genre (like that movie we saw in ken's class). very assembly line manual labor feel to it. heavy machinery, fork lifts, lots 'o steel. sanitary to the extent that there was never anything too conspicuous lying around out of place.

> you mentioned 30 cases ice cream for superfresh in ohio as part of the 3.5 week turn over - could there be emergency orders? like they didn't realize that a big picnic was this weekend and they're going to need twenty crates of this or that. did you come in contact with corporate process issues like that?
-yep. good instincts. i think food lion was the chain which would call in their orders everyday as needed in the latter portion of our shifts. the deal was that after we were finished with our "day's work" we knew that there would be one more unlisted order to fill. that was a pain sometimes when the order was huge and would take a few hours. mentally annoying to not know how long you would be working, but food lion (or whoever it was) was a valued customer so the did it. -4th of july. i didn't work it personally, but the word was that the freezer switches to an all-out ice supplier for the fourth. ice! ice! ice! for beer beer beer. lots of potential overtime during the holiday, but pretty much handled well since they have had practice anticipating the rush.

> who worked in the plant with you? had other people on the mezzanine gone to college? did the managers have laptops? was there a union presence?
-i didn't know anyone who had gone to college. one guy was trying to pull off community college during off-time (unbelievably incredibly tough) and another was saving up money to go to music school.
-one coworker shot his dog because it ran away (for real). many on parole. stuff like that.
-BUT most workers, despite any cliches an academic might want to thrust upon them, were really into their kids. every break-time was mostly spent talking about little league and bad teachers and grades and daughter's boyfriends and stuff.
-supposedly one guy pooped himself trying to lift a 65 pound turkey, cause he thought it was some frozen vandekamps (which are pretty light)
-i didn't see any laptops or fancy gagets among management. no recollection of stuff like that. probably some laptops though among higher management. i heard they had a trick to keep macintoshes from freezing...
-i did not work there long enough to get a feel for the union presence, although my recollection is of overhearing someone say that there was always a union foreman on the grounds. that might be wrong though.

> you duties sound specific, and the double elevators, 90 degree corners for stacking, etc, sound like they were well designed to help you be efficient. did you mind/enjoy working there?
-the stuff i wrote earlier about the orders going out one at a time and the cameras covered the best sources of efficiency encouragement. i can explain that more later if you want.
-i liked working there only because it was a temporary job. i was lucky enough to know that i would be going back to college and stuff a month later. some of the employees had been there for years and years and years (some for 25 plus). so i need to acknowledge that there was a definate root of any complacency.
-that said, i did like working there. it was the hardest work i had done up to then (at least physically and scheduling wise) so i came home with a feeling that i had earned my money. i liked the job description as well, "yeah, i work in a 20 degree frozen storage warehouse moving 12 tons of food a day by hand..." hard to beat that one. but like i said, my perspective was priviledged since i knew i would be 'getting up out of there.' i learned a lot about hard work and the feeling of being trapped in an endless cycle of work. i talked to lots of people who would have given their eye-tooth to get the chance to go to college. there's little time to focus on plans when you have kids and bills and work 10 hours a day.
-my family always used to remind me each time i would head of to Swarthmore in the fall that "thousands of kids are working their tails off to get into a place like Swarthmore." At Swat, people seem to often take the #1 ranking and the privilege and the education and the club-med
atmosphere flippantly (unique pressures which compel one to portray that attitude at Swat aside) , but at the freezer, i got a swift reminder of the reality of "getting up out of there" and getting to college. so, i am thankful for the perspective of at least one reason why i am at college, and it actually is one of the reasons i worked harder at school this semester (turn off violin music now).

> you said:
> That place was the Harvard of manual labor.
> because they had you so well coordinated?

-my friend Jason coined that term (harvard of manual labor) about the place. he works at the freezer now that he has graduated from college (he is a family member of the owner), and i think he said that to me in particular, since he knew i went to Swarthmore . In context, he was saying that it takes a lot of effort for the average bear to go to school and to go to the library and work hard hitting the books, and it takes just as much determination to make it through the brutal environment of the freezer. it was a very contextual statement. it refers to the selective quality of the workers, not the coordination of the management per se.

> was that helpful (efficiency and expectations) and/or roboticizing (cog in the machine, etc) ?
-very helpful for the company and the workers both, but i always figured that if they could standardize cases into three or four sizes, there could be a computer program which could figure out the most efficient way to pack the boxes and then do it automatically with a machine instead of a human. so yeah, i felt like a fancy machine which could pick up fallen goods and stack boxes so they wouldn't fall. i moved food a total of three feet from the conveyor to the pallet. not too exciting.

> is that kind of efficiency alienating or just easy?
-the mass production which results from the efficiency was alienating. one memory i have is of my conveyor belt literally streching out of sight, packed with food coming at me that i had to unload. all day, that steady stream of endless food just kept coming at me (the food hits a little bumper at my end of the coveyor and starts to back up very early in the day, hence the bells which eventually go off if my line of food reaches all the way back to its origin). You work against the unseen limit of an endless line of food all day. -a laser stops your conveyor to give you time to unload when the food pace gets hairy (more if you want it)

> are there any easy answers to the problem of technology? (that last one is optional)
-give me more specific problems you have in mind and i'll try and answer -i'm brewing on my own.... -the universal root of tech to me is the eternal goal of making more stuff to do the stuff the new stuff can't do but has inspired you to think about. that seems to be the human mission and it seems to be both the function of the meta-catalyst to creativity (art, music, movies-inspire, do more) and the root of our economic "human dilemma." -moral of story perhaps....tech is great, but what do we do with the humans?

> you said this:
> The shipments were each organized both on paper and physically on the
> conveyor belt by categories which boiled down to ice cream v. non-ice
> cream for all intents and purposes, along with seafood).
> can you explain this for me? you mentioned seafood being expensive -
> so everything else besides ice cream is stouffers and jolly green giant?

-yep, everything besides ice cream and seafood is stouffers and green giant...along with tons of Hot Pockets, lean cuisines, burritos, etc... (breyers and turkey hill were the big ice cream names) I saw more ice cream than i could have dreamed about. Honestly, i don't know how the cows do it.

> did you eat a lot of ice cream?
-not a drop. but i eat too much coffee ice cream at home (i quit eating
ice cream while i was working there)...

> how do you feel about frozen food now? (had you eaten hot pockets before you got there?)
-dude. hot pockets. hells yes! i started them bad boys in tenth grade. now they have lean pockets too! so i was pleasantly suprised to see them in the warehouse (and believe it or not, they had a cool dispenser in the lunch room where you could get hot pockets for lunch, and I ate two ham and cheese pockets a day...) at the time though, at home, i began to develop an aversion to frozen food. my family eats an inordinate amount of frozen products i think, and i began to get flashbacks of work at home. the ironic thing is though, that i didn't handle any local food. the freezer where i worked shipped far away and doesn't do local grocers (helps the trucking side).

front lines
-as far as me being on the front lines is concerned...i may have spent a month on the "front lines," but i certainly didn't get any purple hearts. i got kicked out of college, and i had a month before summer school so i got a job at this freezer (since manual labor pays well and has a high turnover). then my girlfriend dumped me, i quit the job, resumed smoking cigarrettes, and went to summer school. i worked my ass off, but i am not on any front lines by any means. john lennon's not writing me any songs from up there.

ok. that seems to cover today's barrage of verbal vomit from the e-man.

later homie,

index | biblio

technology affects food relationships and death determining potential directions for our society.
 - composition
- pills
diet pills
- distribution 
electronic babysitting fluoridation
technological determinism

thesis biblio
how to read this thesis
process notes