Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pachirat (2&3) and Adams

            Chapters two and three of Every Twelve Seconds, by Timothy Pachirat, begin to more directly challenge the reader.  Whereas Pachirat used much of chapter one to lay out his argument about the organization and opaque qualities of the slaughterhouse which effectively utilize and perpetuate “racial, gender, citizenship, and education hierarchies that coerce others into performing dangerous, demeaning, and violent tasks from which we all benefit,” he uses chapters two and three to provide graphic descriptions of the duty and consequence of each individual worker’s participation in two different areas of the slaughterhouse (9).  One of the major themes to which he keeps returning is the façade, or fabrication, of what events actually take place in the transition from life to kitchen table, which is the end goal of the whole meat-industry. 
Pachirat is very interested in analyzing the architectural organization of the site.  The layout of the building, which he says could pass as a local community college, successfully acts to “separate the industrialized slaughterhouse’s zones of privilege from its zones of production” (27).  Drawing on phrases like “mastery of perception”, he paints a picture of secrecy (32).  The reader is clearly meant to feel uncomfortable by having all of this killing hidden from sight, largely I would argue because for most people not knowing what goes on in the production of their food would be their preferred manner to go through life.  Chapter two focuses on the fabrication room.  The name alone underscores the innate deception involved in the way the meat is displayed to the consumer.  The whole goal of the fabrication department is to turn what was a living animal into something homogenized and unrecognizable. 
In chapter three, Pachirat focuses solely on the operation of what is called the kill floor.  Although the management attempted to sanitize the language by calling the action “harvesting”, kill floor stuck.  He lays out intricate floor plans for the reader, including an appendix of specific duties of each of the 121 jobs on the kill floor.  He devotes a large section of the chapter to a description of where exactly the animals are killed.  It becomes evident quickly though that there is not one definite location in which this occurs. Although “technically, it is the severing of the carotid arteries and jugular veins that kills the cow, which will die somewhere in the electrical stimulation and bleedpit area”, any cows that manage to escape the bolt gun are shot with a .22 rifle.  But of course, these animals are not wasted.  They are added to the assembly line (or I should say disassembly line) along with the cows that did not try to make a run for it.  The layout of the kill floor is such that many of the operators, and consequently actions that are taking place, are out of each individual’s line of sight. 
His descriptions of cuts and punctures generally are accompanied by a description like: “a narrow but forceful geyser of blood often spurts out, sometimes hitting the worker in the eye” (68) or “a drizzling red and green liquid screen of blood and vomit” falls onto the floor (55).  Made evident by these examples, Pachirat is clearly trying to do more than explain what happens on a day-to-day basis inside the walls.  He is always circling the idea that every single aspect of the slaughterhouse and what occurs within it is constructed in a particular fashion so that the minimal amount of people actually have to be involved in not only killing the animal, but in watching the carcass’ progression from a cow to a chiseled piece of meat. 
Adams’ article analyzes the overlap between the meat industry and pornography.  Along with describing the ways in which females are objectified not only within the world of porn but also in our everyday lives, he describes meat as being turned into a “mass term”.  Like Pachirat, Adams recognizes the crucial aspect of homogeny in selling meat as an object, instead of as a subject that was once alive and breathing.  The images he shows repulsed me from the second I looked at them.  But why, exactly? I think it really is all about females being objectified.  It’s more than just being compared to an animal.  There is a somewhat subconscious understanding that to be compared to an animal is to be minimized and disrespected.  So what does that say about our attitudes towards animals?  If this comparison is so distressing to me, why don’t I care more about the way chickens and cows are treated? When I argue that “I’m not a piece of meat”, what am I really saying?  I’m not intimidated by a literal cannibalistic consumption.  What I’m referring to is the homogenization and to some extent fabrication that both Pachirat and Adams refer to.  


  1. Hi Liz!
    You posted this even before our Thursday class!!!
    So I think Pachirat does more than just providing a description of the slaughterhouse’s working process. He actually wants us to think of the slaughterhouse as a miniature of our society with all of its division and hierarchy. I am not sure whether you guys notice this, (I bet you do) but Pachirat’s descriptions of the people working in the front office always include the word “white” and we never know what is the skin color of the workers of the rest of the slaughterhouse, those who do the dirty work. It is an interesting thing to notice, and we can do all the deep analysis on this one point, but I would like to move on.
    Liz, I agree with you that Pachirat is trying to do more than just describing in his narrative. He is trying to use the visual images to touch our souls and to gain some sympathy for the animals. He goes into detail about the shooting and the kicking of the feet. I tried to visualized this, and I fail to hold the images in my head for long.
    There are so many divisions and binaries in the slaughterhouse: white/non-white, front/back, dirty/clean, visible/non-visible, male/female, alive/dead, inside/outside, etc. Isn’t this the way our modernized society structured? By giving the “others” the dirty work, we, the insiders, do not need to think about it, and then we have them as the scapegoat to say that they are the one doing the unethical killing. Actually, we, as consumers, are the one with power and choice. We are not part of the system, we are the system. I am not sure where I am going with this. I still need to look into myself to see how I am legitimizing my own irresponsibility.
    The pornographical aspect of our food consumption is true to me, but I need more analysis. I agree that we use language of sex to describe food and language of food to describe sex and human being, especially women’s bodies.
    Liz, I would want to make a guess. You don’t care more about the way chickens and cows are treated because if you truly do, you would have to change a lot, A LOT in your living routine. I think that you, like me, started to see how everything is related, and the idea of change is scary and overwhelming. I am experiencing that right now.

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  3. The above blog posts are, as usual, very interesting and well-written. Unfortunately, many of the things that stood out to me when reading these two pieces have been touched on already. Therefore, I plan to comment on some of what has already been said…

    First reflecting on a comment of Tara’s… “Pachirat continuously argues that “distance and concealment are at work as mechanisms of power” (31)”. I believe this quote directly ties together the majority of what we have read and talked about this past semester: the role of power and how it is at work in many of societies relationships today. We have talked about Whites and Blacks, rich versus poor, and privileged versus disadvantaged. Up until this discussion, we have mostly talked about people. Now, we have broadened this discussion to the topic of animals (mostly mammals). The posts in response to Pachirat’s first chapter were rather skeptical, as people commented on the ridiculousness of drawing comparisons between the Holocaust and slaughterhouses. While I, too, think that (no matter what) if I were to in ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM equate the Holocaust to mass slaughter when speaking with someone who is Jewish, I believe this would STRONGLY offend. However, on a basic level, I agree with this comparison simply as it suggest the power plays at work. In both cases, people are brainwashed into thinking what they are doing is acceptable (Nazi soldiers, or employees on the kill floor). As well, those who are physically outside of such boundaries (outside of the concentration camps, or the slaughterhouses) turn a blind eye. And finally, those in positions of power are keen on watching and letting it all happen. MANY religious, philosophical, and historical scholars have asked the questions: 1) How will we prevent another Holocaust from happening? And 2), Can something like the Holocaust exist again in modern society? After reading a lot of what we have read in this class, and specifically what we have read on mass slaughter, I am unsure as to how we might answer this question confidently. Although many would argue that humankind is flat-out incomparable to animals, much of the same power structure is at work.

  4. Second, reflecting on Liz’s comment… “In chapter three, Pachirat focuses solely on the operation of what is called the kill floor. Although the management attempted to sanitize the language by calling the action ‘harvesting’, kill floor stuck”. I found this to be INCREDIBLY interesting. First of all, I don’t know that using the term ‘harvest’ is any better than using the term ‘kill floor’. The term ‘harvest’ makes me think that we GROW and HARVEST animals for one sole purpose (we’ve all heard about the chickens that are manufactured to grow without feet so that their meat is fatty and soft). In essence, Pachirat would argue that we really are plainly harvesting and growing these animals. Therefore, it almost seems that the term ‘kill floor’ is preferred because it allows those of us on the outside to envision the ideal: a cow who has lived his/her entire life roaming the pastures, eating fresh grass and soaking up the sun, and once he/she has reproduced and lived a full life, this cow will be taken to the slaughterhouse to be killed. If we reference the ‘kill floor’ as such, it merely relates to the death of a human being, something we are capable of coping with. And if we must distinguish between natural or forced death, I would still argue that humans are capable of coping with a forced death, as we hear and see killing on television and in the media all of the time.

    Lastly, reflecting on Steph’s comment… “We can talk about the horrible conditions of the meat industry and even document it, but we have no viable alternatives.” I, too, am interested in what Pachirat has to say about this (maybe after reading this, he will shoot Professor Stern an e-mail…). I find the atrocities of this book to be stomach-churning, yet I have not seriously considered the idea of changing my diet. Okay, maybe I’ll continue to buy free-range meat, but will I refrain from ordering meat at a restaurant when I am unsure of its origin? Probably not. I think that the only thing that would really change my behavior in the long-run would be if the FDA came out with “flashing news” that all meat in the United States is harmful and will shorten our lifespan 5-10 years… This comment alone makes me sound incredibly selfish, so I will attempt to neutralize this by adding that I went out to dinner at the Brewster Inn last weekend and successfully convinced everyone at the table to stay away from lobsters due to their boiling death. However, what was the result? Was I REALLY successful? No… because two people ordered steak, I had big-eyed tuna, and the final person of our party ate mussels…

  5. The way people separate themselves from the meat they eat is relatively simple and extremely widespread. People do not correlate the meat they eat with the animals that meat comes from by simply turning their eyes away from the slaughter. People constantly create excuses for their eating meat; they tell their children that “The cows don’t suffer; they wanted to be your food; that’s why cows exist” (Adams, 20). We trick ourselves into believing these excuses. Then when we are old enough to question these ideas, we validate our consumption of another being by simply creating a mass identity for these animals. We refuse to acknowledge them as individual beings – beings who have feelings and were alive before they were slaughtered for our own benefit and enjoyment. As Eliza explained in her post, “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.’” I agree with this idea; that the people who consume and even produce the food we eat are and choose to remain naïve over the processes by which this food arrives on our plates. We enjoy the benefits of the process while remaining ignorant of the steps it takes. What Adams and Pachirat are arguing is the idea that we as the consumers must demand “insider knowledge about what [exists] behind the opaque” (Pachirat, 28). We must seek the truth behind these processes, see the injustices that are occurring, and demand changes.

    I’d also like to comment on Lauren’s post where she says that “harvesting” the animals makes it seem as if we are growing and raising these animals for one purpose. That is exactly the point of slaughterhouses. As hard as it is to understand, we ARE harvesting these animals – we grow, feed, and raise these animals with the sole goal of killing and eating them. Everything we do to those animals is designed to better prepare them for the kitchen they will eventually end up in. By using the term harvest, however, people on the outside who chose to examine the processes of the meat industry in a closer manner would inevitably have seen the writing on the wall and realized that this was exactly what those in power were doing, harvesting innocent animals for slaughter. By rejecting that term and opting for kill floor, the process remains that much more concealed. The truth behind the processes can remain that much more hidden from prodding and inquisitive eyes of the public.

  6. It seems that most of us have taken away similar messages from the readings for this week. Rather than rehash those, I’ll take a cue from Lauren and comment on what’s already been discussed.

    For me, the offensiveness of the comparison of women to “meat” doesn’t stem from my own actual opinions of or feelings toward animals. I think very highly of animals. I think they have personalities, emotions, hopes, etc. So I know it isn’t that I don’t want to be compared to my own idea of animals; it’s that I don’t want to be compared to the concept of animals held by the people doing the objectifying. Like Liz, I object to being seen as “a piece of meat.” But why do I object to that rather than to the premise that to be animal-like is a bad thing? I think that with regard to the mass objectification and destruction of animals and women, people are often unable to have fruitful conversations because they are working with different ideas of what it means to be an animal or a woman.

    On a different note, I appreciate Steph’s concern that it would be difficult to change our diets at a societal level, but I don’t see it as impossible. Our guide at Farm Sanctuary explained that fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t have found so many vegetarian and vegan options in grocery stores, which is a clear signal of change. We can also see that change in the increasing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as the number of vegetarian and vegan options in restaurants that do serve meat. Maybe that change has been classed and relatively small, but the food industry is responding to changing demands. The more that happens, the easier it will be for people all over the country to achieve a healthy, non-meat (or at least non-industrial meat) diet. I’ve experienced change on a more personal level; I haven’t had any meat since reading “Consider the Lobster.” Granted, it’s only been a week, but my visceral reaction to that reading, combined with my experience at Farm Sanctuary yesterday, makes me think that that change is going to be a permanent one.

    But I think the more likely response to readings like Pachirat’s will be similar to Lauren’s. Since clearly not everyone sees eating animals as immoral, choosing free-range and organic meat seems like a healthy, humane alternative (although our Farm Sanctuary guide explained why this might not be true). For example, today I got to play with someone’s ducklings. I imagined their future to be as innocent and fun as they were, while another person present had no problem with the idea that the ducklings might someday end up on someone’s plate—even on his own plate. This obviously made me sad, since I was bonding with the ducklings, so the other person asked me whether I’d rather eat a duck that had suffered in a disgusting, miserable slaughterhouse or a duck that had lived a happy, healthy life with his brothers and sisters. I think that kind of comparison and the knowledge behind it is an important one to make, but I think it’s only a step toward the recognition that there is a third option: not to eat a duck at all.