Monday, April 16, 2012

Pachirat and Adams

Pachirat’s “Every Twelve Seconds” and Adams’ excerpts from “The Pornography of Meat” both address the treatment of animals to show how notions of power and privilege continue to play a key role in our modern society. Pachirat provides an in depth description of a particular slaughterhouse in America to illustrate the reality of the processes that occur in this industry. Pachirat explains that this slaughterhouse is distant and invisible to the public. The slaughterhouse is physically deceptive because the building’s outer appearance looks like any other building in the community. Additionally, the people who are working within the walls of the slaughterhouse are the only ones who have true knowledge of what is actually going on inside. I found the first three chapters to be particularly informative since Pachirat physically worked in the slaughterhouse and can therefore offer a firsthand account. I personally gained a lot of eye-opening and disturbing information about what is involved in producing the meat that appears in grocery stores or at restaurants. Pachirat says “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” (10). Before reading this book, I honestly did not think much about how a piece of meat presented on a plate at a restaurant got there. Pachirat continuously argues that “distance and concealment are at work as mechanisms of power” (31). I am able to distance myself from what goes on in the slaughterhouses, which reinforces how I, along with my classmates, am in a privileged position in our country.
I found it interesting to think about the appearance of meat in grocery stores in America compared to markets around the world. When I was abroad in Barcelona last semester, the famous market called La Boqueria had several meat sections. The meat on display consisted of items including pig bodies, cow legs, and duck heads to give a few examples. After seeing this meat, I told myself I would never eat it. The meat that is sold in American grocery stores on the other hand looks very clean and is neatly packaged. This example led me to question why Americans in particular are by and large blinded from the process of killing animals and preparing animal meat, which goes back to Pachirat’s description of the slaughterhouse.
Pachirat provides an explanation of all the different positions in the slaughterhouse to show how a hierarchical structure exists within the slaughterhouse as well. He gives the layout of the slaughterhouse and illustrates that people with superior, prestigious jobs are distanced from the actual process of slaughtering animals. For example, the front office and the kill floor are as far apart as possible. He describes how race, class, gender and education are factored in when examining the different workers. The employees who work in areas like the kill floor have beyond brutal and difficult responsibilities. As I read about the details of the kill floor, my stomach churned. Pachirat explains that those working on the kill floor face the most dangerous and unsanitary conditions, compared to those in the cooler or fabrication department. The kill floor is “where leaking fluids—from blood to urine to feces to vomit to bit of brain mater to bile—are a constant presence” (40). I cannot imagine the lives of these workers who experience haunting images of destroyed animals every single day. I began to wonder if they suffer severe mental and emotional consequences, like those soldiers experiencing PTSD. These workers are carrying out their duties as ordered by their superiors. Many of these people need these jobs in order to survive economically. Because our society has grown to be so competitive, people are willing to take jobs in places like slaughterhouses if necessary in order to strive toward success. These are the people taking the lives of the animals because our society is relying on them to do so.
In the "Pornography of Meat" excerpts, Adams discusses the overall structure of our society and how animals and women represent inferior objects. Women and animals are both seen as consumable or usable in different ways. Due to the dominant views that have been constructed in our culture, women and animals are expected to serve others. When thinking about animals, Adams asks a critical question, how did we come to accept that animals are destined to be no more than meat? (19). Humans have the power over animals and therefore often use them as meat. We strip animals of their individuality and uniqueness and turn them into our food, as seen in Pachirat’s description of a slaughterhouse. It is impossible for us to know what an animal is thinking or how an animal is feeling. However, it is clear that animals experience pain and pleasure. Animals are beings that do not exist to merely feed humans. Slaughterhouses, along with mass imprisonment, are examples of systems that illustrate how power and privilege function in our society. These systems symbolize larger structural issues in America today. 


  1. In Tara’s post on this week’s readings, she addresses Pachirat’s idea that the slaughterhouse, like our society, is an institutionalized structure through which power and privilege are reinforced. I found this argument to be one of the most interesting aspects of chapters 2 and 3 in Pachirat’s book. Pachirat writes that “there are 121 job functions, 121 perspectives, 121 experiences of industrialized killing” on the killing floor in the slaughterhouse (47). He later explains that these 121 different positions on the kill floor do not hold equal power, but rather that the kill floor was distinctly designed to preserve power and privilege, especially in terms of protecting and limiting one’s “right to look at.” The idea of who has the right/ability to look at certain things is a theme that we discussed at length in our first unit on photography, but it is equally present in Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds. Not only do physical divisions on the kill floor prevent people from having access to certain aspects of the gruesome slaughter process, but they also provide the privilege of distancing certain people from the killing process. Thus, there are people (largely those in positions of power), who do not have to actively engage with the killing process, and this distancing allows for the preservation of their feelings of not being fully culpable or responsible for the killing that takes place. Essentially these people in positions of power are being granted the right to ignore what is taking place under their supervision.
    In response to Tara’s question of whether or not people who work on the kill floor suffer from some sort of “kill floor related PTSD,” perhaps this distancing and separation of the kill process is the exact reason why many people do not suffer from severe mental trauma. By forcing people to not think about the process of killing as a whole, and rather making them view their portion of the process as simply another step in the assembly line, I think factories like the one in Pachirat’s book help workers compartmentalize and justify their work, allowing them to be less disturbed than if they were in charge of the entire process of slaughtering hundreds of cows every day. I am not by any means saying that this process is necessarily a good thing, but I do think that it helps to preserve the well being of many workers psyches.

  2. So far in this class we have touched on topics in this class that many people may never have the privilege of understanding or learning about because they are not provided with the proper institutions or resources to inform them. However, meat is something everyone should know and be familiar with. At a very young age we are taught where beef, bacon, chicken, etc. comes from. Of course our parents could have fabricated the situation by saying similar statements made in the article The Pornography of Meat, “the cows don’t suffer, the cow wanted to be your food, you need to eat meat or else you would die.” Regardless if we were told these statements as kids we knew where our food was coming from. So my question and this touches on Tara’s point about the display of meat a little bit, why are we so inclined to forget the meat’s origin when eating it?? Is it really because the way the meat is packaged so well that we forget?? I would argue that people have a tendency to consciously force themselves to not think about these issues just like I think people force themselves to forget about many issues in society. Whether that is because they want to pretend the world is perfect or because they do not want to feel like a bad person and deal with the consequences. I think our manufactures and butchers help society out by packaging pounds of meat so beautifully that it is easy to forget where they came from. Just like when soldiers come home looking, if nobody asked they would think everything was fine with them. However, there is so much truth behind a smiling soldier and a slab of meat on a plate but people have to be willing to let that truth enter into their conscious. That is why people refuse to go to slaughterhouses, ignorance is bliss and if they do not know they do not have to change anything with themselves of the greater works of society.

    My second point that I wanted to touch on was the conditions these less privileged workers had to deal with on the kill floor. I too was pretty disgusted reading through all their responsibilities and duties and I wondered how these workers were able to bear the burden of killing and dealing with dead animals then I kind of thought maybe they get some glorification from this job. I know most of them this job is not ideal and they only took it to put food on the table but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got some thrill in this position. I mean they are treated so poorly that I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a sense of release in treated something else poorly. I’m not condoning their actions but I am trying to imagine how they get through a days work. It is either that or they have to learn to disassociate with the work they are doing because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do it.

  3. I agree with Tara that both Chapters 2 and 3 of Pachirat’s “Every Twelve Seconds” and Adams’ excerpts from “The Pornography of Meat” play upon notions of power that are indicative of a larger issue of power and privilege in our society. I found it most interesting, although not at all surprising, that the front office is geographically as far away from the kill floor as possible. This reminded me of the environmental racism that we discussed in class and the fact that malodorous things are put where the “lesser” in society are, away from the privileged. The privilege does not only manifest itself in the physical distancing from the killing, it also manifests itself in the metaphoric distancing. A cow comes into the slaughterhouse as a cow, and is met by the kill floor worker as a cow. He does not have the privilege of forgetting that this cow is, in fact, a cow. At a steakhouse in New York, however, the consumer is able to forget that the filet on the menu is a cow. Instead, for the privileged, the object of merciless conditions and brutal killing is simply a steak.
    Another thing that struck me as I was completing this week’s reading was how we attempt to rationalize/cope with/deal with the mass killing that goes on in these industrial slaughterhouses, and the injustices of society at large, when the facts do finally surface. I was horrified at the revelation that these cows do not die a quick and painless death. Rather, they are (sometimes unsuccessfully) made unconscious so that they can endure brutal incisions and mutilation, and then eventually bleed out. However, meat-industry publications state that the motions of the cow kicking wildly and vomiting are “purely reflexive and do not indicate consciousness,” implying that it is okay or excusable to mutilate them at this point (Pachirat 55). This is hauntingly similar to the official reports we read about after 9/11 indicating that Iraqis and other Middle-easterners may have important information about terrorist organizations and plots, implying that it is okay or excusable to torture them for information. So, of course, it is a big problem that people do not know what is going on behind the walls of these slaughterhouses that “blend seamlessly into the landscape of generic business parks ubiquitous to Everyplace, U.S.A.,” but it is an even bigger problem that people do eventually find out what is going on, and do nothing about it. Or worse, excuse it.

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  5. In her post Tara says, “I am able to distance myself from what goes on in the slaughterhouses, which reinforces how I, along with my classmates, am in a privileged position in our country”. I think another significant part of our privileged position that allows us to distance ourselves from what occurs in the slaughterhouses is the comfort and authority we enjoy as spectators. Earlier in the semester, we talked about the male gaze and voyeurism. As a voyeur, one does not see him/herself as directly connected to the subject being observed. Adams suggests there is a male gaze with women and meat because the male gaze turns both of them into objects that satisfy the heterosexual male unconscious. What we know about the gaze is that it is incomplete until it is returned, but that in both consuming meat and watching pornography there is only the voyeur’s gaze. However, Adams insists that after having lived with a cow, killed that cow and butchered that cow, she no longer regarded that cow as an object or a thing. Because the gaze had been returned, when Adams saw the meat on the plate she saw it as “dead flesh of what was once a living, feeling being” (22). Adams says, when referring to an image of Lisa Simpson, “Like Lisa Simpson, I, too, knew what it was like to look at a nonhuman animal and have an individual look back at me-not as a (human) subject gazing at an (animal) object, but as two subjects” (21). When thinking about the gaze, a clear parallel can be made between eating meat and looking at pornography. Adams could not eat the meat after having lived with and killed the cow. Recognizing the animal as an individual and a unique being made it impossible for her to eat its flesh. Similarly, when people look at pornography, they usually do so while hiding behind a computer screen or perhaps looking at a nudie magazine. The point is that the gaze is never returned and the pornography user masturbates to a mass term-a woman or man who has become a sexual object on the internet or in a magazine. If the gaze was returned, and the viewers recognized the person on the screen as a unique individual who could look back at the spectators, they might feel shame and guilt looking at that sort of sexual objectification.