Monday, April 16, 2012

The Fabrication of Distance

After rubbing the belly of a (large) sleeping pig and reading Pachirat’s second and third chapter, I couldn’t help but to realize that these animals are in fact (as the guy from Farm Sanctuary said) individuals. [I also couldn’t help but to think about how good the pigs shoulder would taste at Christmas dinner but that’s another story—just keepin’ it 100] I was entranced by the way my peers engaged with animals they’ve never had a chance to see up close or touch. Pachirat speaks to this. The fact that most have never interacted with or even seen the animal’s they have consumed throughout their lifetime is certainly one of the main concerns or issues with the way we treat and consume animals. With that said, Pachirat’s book is the door or window for those that do not have access to slaughterhouses in order to obtain the “insider knowledge about what exists behind the opaque” (28).

My favorite section of this reading (not that I find some delight in reading this kind of thing) is the in-detail description of the way in which a cow is killed (53-55). It’s of particular interest because of the incident that happened in the first chapter—the cows escaping and getting shot in the head, etc. I didn’t understand how the workers were so riled up about the fact that a cop shot the cow when the same thing happens in the factory; regardless the cow was going to get shot—so what’s the issue? What I mean to say is that the slaughterhouse keeps us away from thinking about what we’re doing to these animals and when we’re all of a sudden exposed to the realities of the harshness everyone wants to point fingers and place blame, or in this case become a vegetarian or vegan. Does that help any though? (No disrespect to the vegetarians) Not supporting the industry by a protest of vegetarianism doesn’t really do much, from my perspective, the cows, chickens, pigs, goats, *insert other animals*, are still being killed “every twelve seconds” (9).

It is evident that the distance between animal and man has seeped easily into our culture as we have desired meals that resemble those that we see on… the Food Network (my favorite channel). The good ol’ American meal, burgers, hot dogs and fries, is a prime (<- ha, carnivorous pun) example of how ‘the powers at be’ know our “weakness” and use it in order to manipulate the audience into contributing to the system of slaughterhouses and capitalism in general. Humans seek to be satisfied and the idea of what could be (through the use of imagination) becomes the priority in order to feed the eyes what the flesh wants (not necessarily the soul). In the case of “The Pornography of Meat”, the fulfillment we receive from the objects of desire make us content. Sex makes us content much like stuffing our face with food does (in a different way of course, I hope?)—so if sex makes us happy and meat makes us happy and relating the two is bad (as seen by Adam’s feminist lens at the end), what exactly are we supposed to give up in the grander scheme of things?


  1. Distancing and putting something “out of sight, out of mind” holds a great deal of power and ability to separate people from acts that are not considered “pretty and nice” such as the slaughter of animals. This distancing happens even at the level of the design of the building, for as Pachirat states, “nothing in my imagination had prepared me for the utter invisibility of the slaughter, the banal insidiousness of what hides in plain sight.” (23) People are kept in the dark about the actual processes that produce the burger or pork chop that sits in front of them. The industrialization of the slaughterhouse is so precise that even workers in the factory may not understand the full extent of “the slaughter”. What I question then is what does it says about society if we need to require this level of distancing in order to carry on with industrial-level production of meat and slaughtering of animals? If the actions being taken are not inhumane and completely acceptable, then why hide them? Christine’s point that our distance and lack of interaction with the animals we are consuming represents a major concern with our treatment of animals made me think of a story my sister told me.

    My sister, Stephanie, did a semester abroad in high school at The Island School in Eleuthera. At the beginning of the semester they adopt a baby pig and the faculty and students raise it over the next few months. Parent’s weekend is one of the last weekends of the semester, and the school puts on a big production. Before the “fiesta”, the pet pig everyone raised together, and had given a name, is slaughtered and served for dinner. Students are allowed to take part in or observe the killing of their pet pig. Stephanie said that many students become vegetarians afterwards.

    I know this story is on one extreme in terms of contact with the food you eat, and it would be impossible to have a personal relationship with every animal that you consumed. However, I think it demonstrates the power that coming into contact with live, breathing animals has on one’s decision to eat meat. It demonstrates why distancing is essential in promoting the mass production of meat. Would Stephanie have become a vegetarian if she had not helped raise an animal that they ate? Would she have different morals about the slaughterhouse industry? Would she ever have had the initiative to then research the process behind animal slaughter? And do any of these questions even matter?

  2. A lot of people made really strong points about how distance functions to render the killing of individual animals invisible. What is most striking about Pachirat is that even within the plant the strategic and meticulous division of labor functions to distance workers from the actual killing of the animals, as exemplified by their outrage at the cops shooting the escaped cow in the first chapter. Employees of the plant who worked in the front office could work in environments that resembled "countless other contemporary office spaces" (27) without ever having any sort of interaction with animals. Pachirat highlights how the zones of privilege and the zones of production are inextricably tied up with inequalities pertaining to race, class, and gender. I was particularly struck by the use of linguistic manufacturing as a mechanism of fabrication. Pachirat comments on the "linguistic leap from steer to steak, from heifer to hamburger" (30). In reading this I was reminded of terms, such as "detainee" and "enemy combatants", utilized by the U.S. military to legitimize torture. Similarly, in both the slaughterhouse and the U.S. military, the white, upper-class, privileged members of society determine the actual policies while remaining distanced from the dirtiness of the actual acts being committed under their leadership. Pachirat notes that the assembly line assures that there are 121 unique perspectives, with no one worker actually observing the entire process of the cow being transformed from a live, individual animal to hamburger meat. It is striking to me that the act of killing animals is so despicable to us that hiding the killing from the consumers is not nearly sufficient. Rather, even within the killing factory, every process is so divided and organized in such a way that no one individual feels responsible for the murder of the animal. In this regard, I think comparisons between factory farms and the Holocaust have some legitimacy, as in both cases an elaborate system of division, strongly tied in with race and class based hierarchies, has been strategically devised so as to relieve any individual involved from feeling responsible for the ultimate outcome. For me, these readings have shed a lot of light on questions raised in examining torture and incarceration about how anyone could possibly allow such horrendous acts to occur.

  3. Along with Christine I was intrigued most by the section Alive/Dead (53-55). Pachirat does a great job of using in depth descriptions to display the act of slaughter. The word slaughter has a negative connotation that I am struggling to wrestle with. There is a major difference in my opinion between death and slaughter. Death can be accidental at times or out of control. When I think of slaughter I think of pre meditated acts of torture. I have to admit that I am struggling with sympathizing with animals (I feel bad about my lack of sympathy but I am just being honest). This struggle relates directly to what Eliza and Christine are talking about distancing. If i never read this book it would never cross my mind that the meats I eat on a daily basis were "slaughtered". I do question the reasoning behind the government's (and the elite class) extreme attempt to distance the acts of slaughter. It seems similar to the ways which our government improperly informed us of the other topics we have discussed in class. But like I said I am struggling with having sympathy/empathy for animals because they are the least of my concerns. I am more concerned about helping humans not only in America but around the world, animals, trees, and another other attempt to be "green" is on the back burner of my heart. I am just being honest. Don't judge me

  4. I, too, communed with all the nature on Sunday. Quick anecdote: At Farm Sanctuary, there is an alpha goat named Ivan. Ivan is a badass goat. The tour guide at Farm Sanctuary told me that Ivan had a male goat friend. At the time, none of the workers knew which of the two goats was the alpha goat because the two were such good friends that they didn't challenge each other. When Ivan's friend died, he told me, Ivan suffered a pretty serious depression. He was okay when we met him, but learning that was heartbreaking.
    What struck me the most in Pachirat's two chapters was not as much what happened in the two chapters, but what happened in appendix 1. It was referenced in chapter 2, I think, so I checked it out. This is where I could draw parallels to Coetzee's Holocaust reference. The routinization of slaughter he clearly outlined was so cold and distant. The distance is not only between food and consumer, but between laborers in the slaughterhouse as well. Marx is cringing over all this abstraction, and so am I.

  5. I would like to speak to Christine’s point about individuals’ actions. She stated, “Not supporting the industry by a protest of vegetarianism doesn’t really do much form my perspective, the cows, chickens, pigs, goats…are still being killed ‘every twelve seconds.’” I disagree. First, if you think about change on the most fundamental level, it starts with one person. If a significant amount of people were to boycott the meat industry, and vocalize their reasoning…that they refuse to participate in the routinization and industrialization of the mass torture and killing of animals…the industry would be forced to change their ways. Second, on a more personal level, if one understands the broader, underlying implications of the meat industry, one will realize that the way in which taking a stand and becoming a vegetarian is a distinctly political statement. The argument implemented by many meat-eaters, both consciously and sub-consciously, is that humans are superior beings to animals. Therefore it is our right, as humans, to exploit these subordinate animals for our own use. This is the same justification that has been used throughout history for atrocities such as slavery, the holocaust, the subordination of women, etc. Using this lens, by boycotting the industrialization of the mass torture and killing of animals, one is also making a larger political statement about equality.