This is an account of industrialized killing from a participant’s point of view. The author, political scientist Timothy Pachirat, was employed undercover for five months in a Great Plains slaughterhouse where 2,500 cattle were killed per day—one every twelve seconds. Working in the cooler as a liver hanger, in the chutes as a cattle driver, and on the kill floor as a food-safety quality-control worker, Pachirat experienced firsthand the realities of the work of killing in modern society. He uses those experiences to explore not only the slaughter industry but also how, as a society, we facilitate violent labor and hide away that which is too repugnant to contemplate.
Through his vivid narrative and ethnographic approach, Pachirat brings to life massive, routine killing from the perspective of those who take part in it. He shows how surveillance and sequestration operate within the slaughterhouse and in its interactions with the community at large. He also considers how society is organized to distance and hide uncomfortable realities from view. With much to say about issues ranging from the sociology of violence and modern food production to animal rights and welfare, Every Twelve Seconds is an important and disturbing work.
About the Author
Timothy Pachirat is assistant professor, Department of Politics, The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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Every Twelve SecondsIndustrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight
By TIMOTHY PACHIRAT
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2011 Timothy Pachirat
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHidden in Plain Sight
The slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a boat carrying cholera. Georges Bataille
In 2004, six cattle escaped from the holding pen of an industrialized slaughterhouse in Omaha, Nebraska. According to the Omaha World Herald, which featured the story on its front page, four of the six cattle made an immediate run for the parking lot of nearby Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, where they were recaptured and transported back to be slaughtered. A fifth animal trotted down a main boulevard to the railroad yards that used to service Omaha's once-booming stockyards. The sixth, a cream-colored cow, accompanied the fifth animal partway before turning into an alleyway leading to another slaughterhouse.
Workers from the first slaughter house and shotgun-armed Omaha police pursued the cream-colored cow into the alley, cornering it against a chain-link fence. After failing to herd the uncooperative cow into a waiting trailer, the police waved the workers back and opened fire on it. The cow ran a few steps, then fell, bellowing and struggling to rise while the police fired on it again.
The shooting took place during the ten-minute afternoon break for the workers at the second slaughterhouse. Venturing outside for fresh air, sunshine, and cigarettes, many of the slaughterhouse workers witnessed the killing of the animal firsthand, and during the lunch break the next day the news spread rapidly among the slaughterhouse employees, fueled by a graphic retelling by a quality-control worker who had been dispatched to the alleyway by slaughterhouse managers to observe the events and, later, to photograph the damage caused to the walls by errant shotgun pellets.
"They shot it, like, ten times," she said, her face livid with indignation, and her words sparked a heated lunch-table discussion about the injustice of the shooting and the ineptitude of the police. She began recounting the story of an unarmed man from Mexico who had recently been shot by the Omaha police. "They shot him just like they shot the cow," she asserted, to the nodding assent of her co-workers. "If he'd been white they wouldn't have shot him. You know, if you are Mexican in this country, the police will do anything to you."
I am driving south through the area of Omaha where the killing took place, and as I approach it a putrid odor, at once sharp and layered, seeps through the metal, rubber, and glass of my car, nestles in the cotton threads of my clothing, and forces a physical reaction that builds in my stomach and mouth before erupting acidly into my throat. I have experienced this sensation before, walking through the open-air northeastern Thai food markets of my childhood or driving by chocolate factories in New Jersey: smells so totalizing the nose sends them instantaneously to the tongue and plays them back as images in the mind.
As I exit the interstate, the odor intensifies. I am nearing the center of the industrialized slaughterhouse's olfactory kingdom. A roadside sign, erected by the city, reads, "To Report Manure Spills or Odor, Call 444-4919." An empty assertion of bureaucratic power over the unruliness of smell, it is one among numerous symptoms of the ongoing conflict between the messiness of mass killing and a society'sour society'sdemand for a cheap, steady supply of physically and morally sterile meat fabricated under socially invisible conditions. Shit and smell: anomalous dangers to be reported to the authorities in an era in which meat comes into our homes antiseptically packaged in cellophane wrappings. To enable us to eat meat without the killers or the killing, without eveninsofar as the smell, the manure, and the other components of organic life are concernedthe animals themselves: this is the logic that maps contemporary industrialized slaughterhouses, where in 2009 some 8,520,225,000 chickens, 245,768,000 turkeys, 113,600,000 pigs, 33,300,000 cattle, 22,767,000 ducks, 2,768,000 sheep and lambs, and 944,200 calves were killed for their meat in the United States.
This book provides a firsthand account of contemporary, industrialized slaughter and does so to provoke reflection on how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in modern society. Although we literally ingest its products in our everyday lives, the contemporary slaughterhouse is "a place that is no-place," physically hidden from sight by walls and socially veiled by the delegation of dirty, dangerous, and demeaning work to others tasked with carrying out the killing, skinning, and dismembering of living animals. Taking the contemporary slaughterhouse as an exemplary instance of how distance and concealment operate in our society, in this book I explore the work of industrialized killing from the perspective of those who carry it out, providing a close account of what it means to participate in the massive, routinized slaughter of animals for consumption by a larger society from which that work is hidden.
Like its more self-evidently political analoguesthe prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, the execution chamber, the extermination campthe modern industrialized slaughterhouse is a "zone of confinement," a "segregated and isolated territory," in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, "invisible" and "on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society." Close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might thus illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable but the ways distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacture of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives. Such scrutiny makes it possible, as social theorist Pierre Bourdieu puts it, "to think in a completely astonished and disconcerted way about things [we] thought [we] had always understood."
The physical escape of cattle from the Omaha slaughterhouse is also a conceptual escape, a rupture of categories. Slaughtered by the tens of millions annually, six of these animals became front-page news when they briefly roamed freely through the city streets. Conceptually dangerous, their escape threatened to surface power relations that work precisely through confinement, segregation, and invisibility within a society that considers the manureand even the smellof these animals something to be reported to the authorities. In escaping the confines of the slaughterhouse, the cattle become, like the anthropologist Mary Douglas's definition of dirt, "matter out of place." And just as Douglas uses matter out of place to explore the taken-for-granted worlds of matter in place, so too does the escape of the Omaha cattle signal what might be learned about distance and concealment through a close exploration of the work of industrialized killing.
Those who profit directly from contemporary slaughterhouses also actively seek to safeguard the distance and concealment that keep the work of industrialized killing hidden from larger society. On March 17, 2011, the Iowa State House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 66 to 27, HF 589, "A Bill for an Act Relating to Offenses Involving Agricultural Operations, and Providing Penalties and Remedies" (a similar bill is also under consideration in the Florida legislature). Supported by lobbyists for Monsanto, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Iowa Cattlemen's, Pork Producers, Poultry, and Dairy Foods associations, the bill makes it a felony to gain access to and record what takes place in slaughterhouses and other animal and crop facilities without the consent of the facilities' owners. The broad scope and severe penalties of this attempt to further sequester industrialized killing and other contemporary practices of animal production from view are particularly highlighted in two sections of the bill, "Animal Facility Interference" and "Animal Facility Fraud," which were explained in an earlier version of the bill, HF 431:
INTERFERENCE. The bill prohibits a person from interfering with an animal facility.... This includes producing an audio or visual record which reproduces an image or sound occurring on or in the location, or possessing or distributing the record. It also prohibits a person from ... entering onto the location, if the person has notice that the location is not open to the public. The severity of the offense is based on whether there has been a previous conviction. For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, and for a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class "D" felony.
FRAUD. The bill prohibits a person from committing fraud, by obtaining access to an animal facility ... by false pretenses for the purpose of committing an act not authorized by the owner, or making a false statement as part of an application to be employed at the location. The severity of the offense is based on whether there has been a previous conviction. For the first conviction, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, and for a second or subsequent conviction, the person is guilty of a class "D" felony.
The penalties for these offenses are severe:
CONVICTION FOR OFFENSESPENALTIES. A class "D" felony is punishable by confinement for no more than five years and a fine of at least $750 but not more than $7,500. An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than two years and a fine of at least $625 but not more than $6,250.
CIVIL PENALTIES. In addition to the criminal penalties, a person suffering damages resulting from the commission of tampering or interference may bring an action in the district court against the person causing the damages to recover an amount equaling three times all actual and consequential damages, and court costs and reasonable attorney fees. In addition, a court may grant a petitioner equitable relief.
The bill specifically criminalizes unauthorized physical access to industrialized slaughterhouses, unauthorized visual, audio, and print documentation of what takes place in slaughterhouses, and the possession and distribution of those unauthorized records regardless of who originally produced them.
A section of the bill detailing how the boundaries of the industrialized slaughterhouse and other animal production facilities are to be legally demarcated states: "A person has notice that an animal facility is not open to the public if the person is provided notice before entering onto the facility, or the person refuses to immediately leave the facility after being informed to leave. The notice may be in the form of a written or verbal communication by the owner, a fence or other enclosure designed to exclude intruders or contain animals, or a sign posted which is reasonably likely to come to the attention of an intruder and which indicates that entry is forbidden."
Here, then, is a legal reinforcement of the industrialized slaughterhouse's physical isolation. The fences and walls that quarantine the work of industrialized killing from larger society are specifically described in the bill as containing animals and excluding "intruders"; these physical barriers receive a special legal status that supersedes the legal status of other, less socially fraught fences and enclosures. What is more, "animal facility fraud" is invented as a new criminal category, applicable to those who seek employment in the industrialized slaughterhouse in order to reveal what takes place inside its walls. Like the physical walls of the slaughterhouse, slaughterhouse work is set apart as something that contains specific prohibitions and criminal sanctions inapplicable to more socially neutral forms of employment. Finally, the act of recording images and audio inside industrialized slaughterhouses as well as the mere possession and distribution of such recordings are criminalized, investing such images with a particular legal condemnation that sets them, too, apart from other images and audio recordings.
The scope of the proposed bill and the severity of its penalties are indicators of the deep fear held by slaughterhouse owners and other financial beneficiaries of animal-production facilities about what might result if the work of industrialized killing and other contemporary animal-production practices were made visible. Much like the response provoked by the escaped Omaha cattle, its overt targeting of those who intentionally reveal what is hidden in plain sight signals the existence of power relations characterized by confinement, segregation, and invisibility.
An examination of the everyday realities of contemporary slaughterhouse work illuminates not only the ways in which the slaughterhouse is overtly segregated from society as a whole, butparadoxically and perhaps more importanthow the work of killing is hidden even from those who participate directly in it. The workers who reacted with outrage and disgust to the shooting of a single cow by the Omaha police participate in the killing of more than 2,400 cattle on a daily basis. The immediacy of the killing by the police of one animal provoked a revulsion that is utterly absent in the day-to-day operations of the slaughterhouse, during which an animal is killed every twelve seconds. Distance and concealment shield, sequester, and neutralize the work of killing even, or especially, where it might be expected to be least hidden.
Exploring industrialized killing from this vantage point draws attention to the distance we create through walls, screens, catwalks, fences, security checkpoints, and geographic zones of isolation and confinement. It reveals the distance we create by constructing and reinforcing racial, gender, citizenship, and education hierarchies that coerce others into performing dangerous, demeaning, and violent tasks from which we directly benefit. It makes visible the distance we create with languagein the ways we avoid precise descriptions of repugnant things, inventing instead less dangerous names and phrases for them. And, by employing a method of ethnographic immersion, it also uncovers the distance those who study the social world often create between themselves and the world(s) they claim the expertise to describe, analyze, and explain. In short, this is an account of industrialized killing that illuminates distance in four metrics: physical, social, linguistic, and methodological.
In attending to these metrics of distance, I engage two broad formulations about the relation between power and sight. The first, articulated by the historical sociologist Norbert Elias in his monumental work The Civilizing Process, posits "segregation, 'removing out of sight,' [and] concealment as the major method of the civilizing process." Tracing the dual processes of Western state formation and manners, Elias argues that concealment and the creation of distance mark the primary relation between power and sight in the contemporary era: "It will be seen again and again how characteristic of the whole process that we call civilization is this movement of segregation, this hiding 'behind the scenes' of what has become distasteful."
Elias traces this broad movement in Western societies by demonstrating how, concurrent with the centralization of violence in the modern state, physical acts and states of being such as nudity, defecation, urinating, spitting, nose blowing, sexual intercourse, the killing of animals, and a host of others were increasingly identified as repugnant and removed from view. Drawing on Western etiquette manuals to document changes in public standards for bodily functions, nakedness, sexual relations, table manners, attitudes toward children, and the treatment of animals from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, Elias convincingly reveals the following pattern: what once occurred in the open without provoking reactions of either moral or physical disgust has been increasingly segregated, confined, and hidden from sight. Manners surrounding the eating of meat are identified as particular historical evidence: table portions grow smaller, making meat less identifiably animal. "Carving knives also shrink, all the less to recall the instrument that deals the death stroke.... Reminders that the meat dish has something to do with the killing of an animal are avoided to the utmost. In many of our meat dishes the animal form is so concealed and changed by the art of its preparation and carving that, while eating, one is scarcely reminded of its origin."
Excerpted from Every Twelve Seconds by TIMOTHY PACHIRAT Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Pachirat. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Hidden in Plain Sight 1
2 The Place Where Blood Flows 20
3 Kill Floor 38
4 "Es todo por hoy" 85
5 One Hundred Thousand Livers 108
6 Killing at Close Range 140
7 Control of Quality 162
8 Quality of Control 208
9 A Politics of Sight 233
Appendix A Division of Labor on the Kill Floor 257
Appendix B Cattle Body Parts and Their Uses 271
What People are Saying About This
Pachirat’s extraordinary narrative tells us about much more than abused animals and degraded workers. It opens our eyes to the kind of society in which we live.—Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation
…a detailed and brilliantly executed ethnography of an industrialized slaughterhouse in Omaha…its clear, jargon-free prose will make it accessible to both graduate and undergraduate students across disciplines.—Clarissa Rile Hayward, author of De-facing Power
By far the most thorough and immersive accounting of slaughterhouse operations in contemporary agribusiness.—Erik Marcus, author of Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money
Timothy Pachirat's courageous study of kill floor work exposes the fiction of "humane" slaughter. This book is required reading for people who care about animals and for those interested in how distance and concealment operate in our society.—Gene Baur, President of Farm Sanctuary and author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food
Pachirat’s prose and tone are readable, horrific, and compelling. The documentary spell it casts recalls the steady, unflinching eye of Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. Astonishing.—John Bowe, author of Nobodies: Slave Labor in Modern America and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
A truly stunning achievement. Every Twelve Seconds takes us into the slaughterhouse and asks: Why do we work so hard to conceal the daily routine of industrialized killing? The result is a masterpiece that is as sophisticated as it is hard to put down.—Steve Striffler, author of Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food
A profoundly sobering exploration of the interplay between the imperatives of the modern meatpacking industry and the dehumanizing slaughter of cattle.—Ian Shapiro, author of The Real World of Democratic Theory
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A man worth looking up to these days
Very interesting book!