Sunday, December 5, 2010
We use our living-in-two-different-cities as an excuse to go exploring. A couple weekends ago we wound up at the cheese factory in Tillamook.
We love Tillamook's cheeses, in particular the vintage white aged extra sharp cheddar, which almost tastes too good for casual use. Their big logs last from 2-4 weeks, depending on how much bread is around, how many omelettes are being made, and so on. Anthony had never been to the factory, and who doesn't love a factory tour?
We watched a guy make waffle cones in a bunch of special waffle-cone waffle irons. And then upstairs for the "self guided" tour, which offers windows through to the production line.
A woman with her friends came up to the window at one point. She had experience on the lines and could give really fascinating details about what was happening. Logs were being measured for a range of weights, extra slices could be applied to logs that were too light, and little slices could be taken off logs that were too heavy.
We watched long enough to see a little shift change. The slicer relieved quality control, who relieved one of the log checkers, who relieved a bag adjuster, who went on break. Taking turns to avoid monotony!
Anthony and I were fresh from a lengthy discussion about the economy (as it is weighing very heavily on in some major life decisions for us right now). We worried about these people whose jobs will no doubt be taken over by robots someday. Not all that soon, since demand for absolute efficiency isn't really necessary in a small-ish cheese factory in an otherwise very sleepy town. But someday. I wondered about the lives of the workers, who were mostly women on the line we were watching, and whether or not they get sick of cheese. I wondered what they would do if the plant modernizes. Are they unionized or is Tillamook too small for that to make sense? Are there other plants nearby that they would go to? This factory, being a "show" factory, is fairly clean and seems like a nice place to work, and if I were wearing lovely whites and pushing cheese around it would be an uncomfortable shift to have to go work at a car factory or something like that.
I was thinking about this when a wealthy-looking woman came up with her grown kids and made a disgusted sound when she surveyed the progress.
"Aren't there ROBOTS that could do all that work?"
Later some high school kids in the cheese-tasting line asked us if there were "oompa-loompas" in the factory. We said alas, no little green men, no singing.
"Oh!...just robots up there?"
"No no, there's a bunch of workers on the lines moving big blocks of cheese around, it's really great."
He looks over at his friend. "All right! Oompa loompas!"
Am I offended because I also work in an industry wherein people can easily look down on a fellow human as a lowly machine? (i.e., am I being a bit too sensitive.) Or was that a truly messed up thing to say? I'm not sure. I know it bothered me.
People are people. Let's treat them as such.