Working Undercover in a Slaughterhouse: an interview with Timothy Pachirat

Timothy Pachirat, Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research and the author of Every Twelve Seconds, is not the first to see industrialized violence and political analogues in the slaughterhouse. But rather than write an exposé, he took a job at one to see how it works from the perspective of those who work there. I interviewed him about his experiences on the kill floor.

This interview was translated into Italian at Neuroneproteso.

Avi Solomon: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Timothy Pachirat: I was born and raised in northeastern Thailand in a Thai-American family. In high school, I spent a year in the high desert of rural Oregon as an exchange student where I worked on a cattle ranch, farmed alfalfa, and--improbably--became a running back for the school's football team. Since then, I've lived in Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Alabama, Nebraska, and New York City working as a builder of housing trusses, a pizza deliverer, a behavioral therapist for children diagnosed with autism, a stay-at-home-dad, a graduate student, a slaughterhouse worker, and, for the past four years, as an assistant professor of politics at The New School for Social Research.

Avi: What alerted you to the importance of doing ethnographic fieldwork?

Timothy: Like many mixed-race, mixed-culture, and mixed-language kids, I developed something of an innate ethnographic sensibility by virtue of the complex cultural terrain I grew up in. Long before I'd ever heard the word 'ethnography,' for example, I spent my undergraduate fall and spring breaks sleeping alongside and getting to know unhoused men and women on Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago as a way of making some sense of the vast inequalities I perceived in American society and in the world. While pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at Yale University, it seemed natural to gravitate to a research orientation that would allow me to engage bodily--as participant and as observer--with the lived experiences of people I might not otherwise ever come into contact with. I was learning a lot of fancy theories that were thrilling on paper, and I was learning some powerful techniques of statistical analysis, but only ethnography allowed me to weigh those made-in-the-academy concepts and techniques against the situated, specific, and beautifully complex lived experiences of the actual social worlds those concepts and techniques purported to describe and explain.

Avi: Why did you choose to go undercover in a slaughterhouse?

Timothy: I wanted to understand how massive processes of violence become normalized in modern society, and I wanted to do so from the perspective of those who work in the slaughterhouse. My hunch was that close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable, but also the way 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 manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives. Like its more self-evidently political analogues--the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, and the execution chamber--the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is '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.' I worked as an entry level worker on the kill floor of an industrialized slaughterhouse in order to understand, from the perspective of those who participate directly in them, how these zones of confinement operate.

Avi: Can you tell us about the slaughterhouse you worked in?

Timothy: Because my goal was not to write an expose of a particular place, I do not name the Nebraska slaughterhouse I worked in or use real names for the people I encountered there. The slaughterhouse employs nearly eight hundred nonunionized workers, the vast majority being immigrants from Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and East Africa. It generates over $820 million annually in sales to distributors within and outside of the United States and ranks among the top handful of cattle-slaughtering facilities worldwide in volume of production. The line speed on the kill floor is approximately three hundred cattle per hour, or one every twelve seconds. In a typical workday, between twenty-two and twenty-five hundred cattle are killed there, adding up to well over ten thousand cattle killed per five-day week, or more than half a million cattle slaughtered each year.

Avi: What jobs did you end up doing there?

Timothy: My first job was as a liver hanger in the cooler. For ten hours each day, I stood in 34 degrees cold and took freshly eviscerated livers off an overhead line and hung them on carts to be chilled for packing. I was then moved to the chutes, where I drove live cattle into the knocking box where they were shot in the head with a captive bolt gun. Finally, I was promoted to a quality-control position, a job that gave me access to every part of the kill floor and made me an intermediary between the USDA federal meat inspectors and the kill floor managers.

Avi: How did you acclimatize to the work?

Timothy: Slowly and painfully. Each job came with its own set of physical, psychological, and emotional challenges. Although it was physically demanding, my main battle hanging livers in the cooler was with the unbearable monotony. Pranks, jokes, and even physical pain became ways of negotiating that monotony. Working in the chutes took me out of the sterilized environment of the cooler and forced a confrontation with the pain and fear of each individual animal as they were driven up the serpentine line into the knocking box. Working as a quality control worker forced me to master a set of technical and bureaucratic requirements even as it made me complicit in surveillance and disciplining my former coworkers on the line. Although it's been over seven years since I left the kill floor, I am still struck by the continued emotional and psychological impacts that come from direct participation in the routinized taking of life.

Every Twelve Seconds:Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.

Avi: How did your coworkers treat you?

Timothy: I would never have lasted more than a few days in the slaughterhouse were it not for the kindness, acceptance, and, in some cases, friendship of my fellow line workers. They showed me how to do the work, bailed me out when I screwed up, and, more importantly, taught me how to survive the work. Still, there were divisions and tensions amongst the workers based on race, gender, and job responsibilities. In addition to showing the forms of solidarity amongst the workers, my book also details these tensions and how I navigated them.

Avi: Who is a "knocker"?

Timothy: The knocker is the worker who stands at the knocking box and shoots each individual animal in the head with a captive bolt steel gun. Of 121 distinct kill floor jobs that I map and describe in the book, only the knocker both sees the cattle while sentient and delivers the blow that is supposed to render them insensible. On an average day, this lone worker shoots 2,500 individual animals at a rate of one every twelve seconds.

Avi: Who else is directly involved in killing each cow?

Timothy: After the knocker shoots the cattle, they fall onto a conveyor belt where they are shackled and hoisted onto an overhead line. Hanging upside down by their hind legs, they travel through a series of ninety degree turns that take them out of the knocker's line of sight. There, a presticker and sticker sever the carotid arteries and jugular veins. The animals then bleed out as they travel further down the overhead chain to the tail ripper, who begins the process of removing their body parts and hides. Of over 800 workers on the kill floor, only four are directly involved in the killing of the cattle and less than 20 have a line of sight to the killing.

Avi: Were you able to interview any knockers?

Timothy: I was not able to directly interview the knocker, but I spoke with many other workers about their perceptions of the knocker. There is a kind of collective mythology built up around this particular worker, a mythology that allows for an implicit moral exchange in which the knocker alone performs the work of killing, while the work of the other 800 slaughterhouse workers is morally unrelated to that killing. It is a fiction, but a convincing one: of all the workers in the slaughterhouse, only the knocker delivers the blow that begins the irreversible process of transforming the live creatures into dead ones. If you listen carefully enough to the hundreds of workers performing the 120 other jobs on the kill floor, this might be the refrain you hear: 'Only the knocker.' It is simple moral math: the kill floor operates with 120+1 jobs. And as long as the 1 exists, as long as there is some plausible narrative that concentrates the heaviest weight of the dirtiest work on this 1, then the other 120 kill floor workers can say, and believe it, 'I'm not going to take part in this.'

Avi: What are the main strategies used to hide violence in the slaughterhouse?


The first and most obvious is that the violence of industrialized killing is hidden from society at large. Over 8.5 billion animals are killed for food each year in the United States, but this killing is carried out by a small minority of largely immigrant workers who labor behind opaque walls, most often in rural, isolated locations far from urban centers. Furthermore, laws supported by the meat and livestock industries are currently under consideration in six states that criminalize the publicizing of what happens in slaughterhouses and other animal facilities without the consent of the slaughterhouse owners. Iowa's House of Representatives, for example, forwarded a bill to the Iowa Senate last year that would make it a felony to distribute or possess video, audio, or printed material gleaned through unauthorized access to a slaughterhouse or animal facility.

Second, the slaughterhouse as a whole is divided into compartmentalized departments. The front office is isolated from the fabrication department, which is in turn isolated from the cooler, which is in turn isolated from the kill floor. It is entirely possible to spend years working in the front office, fabrication department, or cooler of an industrialized slaughterhouse that slaughters over half a million cattle per year without ever once encountering a live animal much less witnessing one being killed.

But third and most importantly, the work of killing is hidden even at the site where one might expect it to be most visible: the kill floor itself. The complex division of labor and space acts to compartmentalize and neutralize the experience of "killing work" for each of the workers on the kill floor. I've already mentioned the division of labor in which only a handful of workers, out of a total workforce of over 800, are directly involved in or even have a line of sight to the killing of the animals. To give another example, the kill floor is divided spatially into a clean side and a dirty side. The dirty side refers to everything that happens while the cattle's hides are still on them and the clean side to everything that happens after the hides have been removed. Workers from the clean side are segregated from workers on the dirty side, even during food and bathroom breaks. This translates into a kind of phenomenological compartmentalization where the minority of workers who deal with the "animals" while their hides are still on are kept separate from the majority of workers who deal with the *carcasses* after their hides have been removed. In this way, the violence of turning animal into carcass is quarantined amongst the dirty side workers, and even there it is further confined by finer divisions of labor and space.

In addition to spatial and labor divisions, the use of language is another way of concealing the violence of killing. From the moment cattle are unloaded from transport trucks into the slaughterhouse's holding pens, managers and kill floor supervisors refer to them as 'beef.' Although they are living, breathing, sentient beings, they have already linguistically been reduced to inanimate flesh, to use-objects. Similarly, there is a slew of acronyms and technical language around the food safety inspection system that reduces the quality control worker's job to a bureaucratic, technical regime rather than one that is forced to confront the truly massive taking of life. Although the quality control worker has full physical movement throughout the kill floor and sees every aspect of the killing, her interpretive frame is interdicted by the technical and bureaucratic requirements of the job. Temperatures, hydraulic pressures, acid concentrations, bacterial counts, and knife sanitization become the primary focus, rather than the massive, unceasing taking of life.

Avi: Is anyone working in the slaughterhouse consciously aware of these strategies?

Timothy: I don't think anyone sat down and said, 'Let's design a slaughtering process that creates a maximal distance between each worker and the violence of killing and allows each worker to contribute without having to confront the violence directly.' The division between clean and dirty side on the kill floor mentioned earlier, for example, is overtly motivated by a food-safety logic. The cattle come into the slaughterhouse caked in feces and vomit, and from a food-safety perspective the challenge is to remove the hides while minimizing the transfer of these contaminants to the flesh underneath. But what's fascinating is that the effects of these organizations of space and labor are not just increased 'efficiency' or increased 'food-safety' but also the distancing and concealment of violent processes even from those participating directly in them. From a political point of view, from a point of view interested in understanding how relations of violent domination and exploitation are reproduced, it is precisely these effects that matter most.

Avi: Did the death factories of Auschwitz have the same mechanisms at work?

Timothy: I recommend Zygmunt Bauman's superb book, Modernity and the Holocaust, for those interested in how parallel mechanisms of distance, concealment, and surveillance worked to neutralize the killing work taking place in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The lesson here, of course, is not that slaughterhouses and genocides are morally or functionally equivalent, but rather that large-scale, routinized, and systematic violence is entirely consistent with the kinds of bureaucratic structures and mechanisms we typically associate with modern civilization. The French sociologist Norbert Elias argues--convincingly, in my view--that it is the "concealment" and "displacement" of violence, rather than its elimination or reduction, that is the hallmark of civilization. In my view, the contemporary industrialized slaughterhouse provides an exemplary case that highlights some of the most salient features of this phenomenon.

Avi: Violence is found hidden in even the most "normal" of lives. How can we spot this pervading presence in our daily life?

Timothy: We--the 'we' of the relatively affluent and powerful--live in a time and a spatial order in which the 'normalcy' of our lives requires our active complicity in forms of exploitation and violence that we would decry and disavow were the physical, social, and linguistic distances that separate us from them ever to be collapsed. This is true of the brutal and entirely unnecessary confinement and killing of billions of animals each year for food, of the exploitation and suffering of workers in Shenzhen, China who produce our iPads and cell phones, of the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' deployed in the name of our security, and of the 'collateral damage' created by the unmanned-aerial-vehicles that our taxes fund. Our complicity lies not in a direct infliction of violence but rather in our tacit agreement to look away and not to ask some very, very simple questions: Where does this meat come from and how did it get here? Who assembled the latest gadget that just arrived in the mail? What does it mean to create categories of torturable human beings? The mechanisms of distancing and concealment inherent in our divisions of space and labor and in our unthinking use of euphemistic language make it seductively easy to avoid pursuing the complex answers to these simple questions with any sort of determination.

Months after I left the slaughterhouse, I got in an argument with a brilliant friend over who was more morally responsible for the killing of the animals: those who ate meat or the 121 workers who did the killing. She maintained, passionately and with conviction, that the people who did the killing were more responsible because they were the ones performing the physical actions that took the animal's lives. Meat eaters, she claimed, were only indirectly responsible. At the time, I took the opposite position, holding that those who benefited at a distance, delegating this terrible work to others while disclaiming responsibility for it, bore more moral responsibility, particularly in contexts like the slaughterhouse, where those with the fewest opportunities in society performed the dirty work.

I am now more inclined to think that it is the preoccupation with moral responsibility itself that serves as a deflection. In the words of philosopher John Lachs, 'The responsibility for an act can be passed on, but its experience cannot.' I'm keenly interested in asking what it might mean for those who benefit from physically and morally dirty work not only to assume some share of responsibility for it but also to directly experience it. What might it mean, in other words, to collapse some of the mechanisms of physical, social, and linguistic distances that separate our 'normal' lives from the violence and exploitation required to sustain and reproduce them? I explore some of these questions at greater length in the final chapter of my book.

Avi: Who was Cinci Freedom? What mythologizing purpose does she serve?

Timothy: I open the book with the story of a cow that escaped from a slaughterhouse up the street from the one I was working in. Omaha police chased the cow and cornered it in an alleyway that bordered my slaughterhouse. It happened to be during our ten minute afternoon break and many of the slaughterhouse workers witnessed the police opening fire on the animal with shotguns. The next day in the lunchroom, the anger, disgust, and horror at the police killing of the animal was palpable, as was the strong sense of identification with the animal's treatment at the hands of the police. And yet, at the end of lunch break, workers returned to work on a kill floor that killed 2,500 animals each day.

Cinci Freedom was another Charolais cow that escaped from a Cincinnati slaughterhouse in 2002. She was recaptured after several days only with the help of thermal imaging equipment deployed from a police helicopter. Unlike the anoymous Omaha cow that was gunned down by the police, Cinci Freedom became an instant celebrity. The mayor gave her a key to the city and she was provided passage to The Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, where she lived until 2008.

Although at first glance the fates of the Omaha cow and of Cinci Freedom are very different, I think both responses are equally effective ways of neutralizing the threat posed by these animals. Their escapes from the slaughterhouse were not just physical escapes but also conceptual escapes, moments of rupture in an otherwise routine and normalized system of industrialized killing. Extermination and elevation to celebrity status (not unlike the ritual presidential pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey) are both ways of containing the dangers posed by these moments of conceptual rupture. They also point to the promises and limitations of rupture as a political tactic, for example the digital ruptures that occur with the release of shocking undercover footage from slaughterhouses and other zones of confinement where the work of violence is routinely carried out on our behalf.

This interview was translated into Italian at Neuroneproteso.


  1. Maybe I’m not paranoid enough, but isn’t the purpose of separating the “clean” and “dirty” side of the floor to keep spoilage to a minimum?

    1. That’s where it starts, but is that where it ends? At least, that’s the question I got out of that section of the interview.

      1. Yes, but then he follows with the implication that there is a hidden motive for separating the knockers from the rest of the floor workers; as if there was an opportunity to craft an industrial plant out of lexan and glass, or the desire to place LCD monitors over every production line.  You see this in all manner of PoMo culture studies: “yes, I know there is a perfectly sensible explaination for what I witnessed, but I also think this implies something about my own personal thesis on the subject…” Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        1. Yeah you have a point here.  There’s a tendency to read intentionality into everything when you start from your conclusion.

        2.  Not really – it’s more that he says the separation of most workers from the killing *serves a function* – he explicitly says he doesn’t think it’s part of a deliberate plan on anyone’s part.

    2. Yeah, that was my initial reaction to that statement, but if you keep reading he clarifies; the separation of workers into “dirty” and “clean” is an unintended consequence of trying to maintain food safety.

  2. The alternative?  We could all go vegan, abandon the economies of scale that make slaughterhouses useful, or go hunting by ourselves.   When this piece was put up, no one could have failed to anticipate that the relative morality of killing your own meat versus having someone else do it for you wouldn’t come up.  So I might as well jump right in to where this was headed, anyway.

    On second thought, I’m a meat eater but not a hunter so my qualifications are suspect.  Personally, I view the slaughterhouse as the place that does my hunting for me.  But perhaps a counterpoint by Jeff Cooper (look him up if you like; highly-educated military men who love guns, hunting, and eating what they kill aren’t, I suppose, household words around BB) would be in order:

    Oddly enough a correspondent recently asked me to explain why I thought that “modern man needs to hunt.” Ancient or modern, man hunts because he is a carnivorous predator. You have only to examine his teeth, which are designed for shearing and masticating meat. Most grass eaters have grazing and grinding teeth located only in the lower jaw. Man does not hunt in order to eat – not in the past and not now. Personally I always choose to eat what I kill, but I know a good many hunters who do not feel that way. The hunting instinct is a drive to place man in charge of his environment, and it is so deeply ingrained that it stays there even if he must live in a large, stone city. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but to all I recommend the magnificent classic “Meditations on Hunting” by José Ortega y Gasset. Even in translation, this is a masterfully clear exposition of the hunting spirit. If you do not know why we hunt, get your own personal copy of this book (it is still available in print) and study it. Almost every third or fourth line is worthy of quotation and a study by itself. It will not change the mind of a grass-eater, but I do not suppose anything will.

    1. it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, either.  most nutritionists and doctors agree.  we eat too much meat.  perhaps there can be better balance through incentives (or less incentives in this case), as well as knowledgeable consumers.  Instead, we have all the power in the producers hands and the information blocked from consumers.  

    2. I rather think that there is no hunting instinct. To claim so is simply rationalising after the fact when there is no longer any justification for hunting. We hunted simply out of philosophical and practical necessity and nothing more. Our modern aggressive impulse is something else entirely. Industrialised killing in any form is a product of the same aggressive impulse and its justification is likewise the same rationalising after the fact. My perfectly animist brain and soul tells me so. It is a problem of religious/ideological thinking in general even if different ideologies have different origins.

  3. I tend to agree with the view of animal handling expert Temple Grandin.

    (approximate quote) “Humans are not going to stop using the bodies of animals for food as well as for various industrial products.  Given that, it is our responsibility to see that the process of handling and killing them is carried out with as little pain and as little fear as possible.”

    Strongly recommend her book Animals in Translation for anyone who is seriously interested in the issue. 

    On the other hand, any member of the lunatic fringe that equates meat packing to Auschwitz would probably be wasting their time in reading it.

    1. Once a government sees a certain group of people as cattle, the industrial farming and meat-packing industries’ know-how becomes applicable.

      And if you think that your government does not see the majority of its people as cattle, I invite you to wake up from whatever dream you’re dreaming. A hint: think of industrialized prisons as industrialized farms for human beings. On a softer lever, public schools & police have a similar approach.

    2.  On the other hand, any member of the lunatic fringe that equates meat packing to Auschwitz would probably be wasting their time in reading it.

      You mean the thing that Pachirat explicitly did not do? What makes you bring that up?

      The lesson here, of course, is not that slaughterhouses and genocides are morally or functionally equivalent, [emph. mine] but rather that large-scale, routinized, and systematic violence is entirely consistent with the kinds of bureaucratic structures and mechanisms we typically associate with modern civilization.

      1. You’re quite right, Pachirat rejected the comparison.  It’s the interviewer I was referring to.

        1.  VicqRuiz, please look up “Rhetorical Question” on Wikipedia. And thanks for making me a proud member of the “lunatic fringe”:)

    3. Playing the role of Leni Riefenstahl is what you seem to admire and when you call animal rights advocates the “lunatic fringe” you sound like the reactionaries who called trailblazers in the Native rights, anti-slavery, women’s rights etc movement lunatic… how history repeats itself for some people. Temple saying “Humans are not going to stop using…” Please… there were people who said slavery is not going to end. Her statement justifies the industry and her own co-optation. Let’s hear from some real visionaries like Jane Goodall, Tom Reagan, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Coretta Scott King…

  4. While I think it’s tempting to jump off into a debate about veganism, what I really appreciate about this piece is the broader view – connecting the industrialization of slaughter to the routine compartmentalization of violence and distress in our “civilization”. What makes us civil is the sequestering of violence – when I purchase this iPad 3, I don’t have to think about the people who were killed for the control of the mines that produced the required minerals, the monotony and pain of the workers who assembled it, the hundreds of varied pollutants that are a byproduct of its manufacturing; I just hand my $500 to the cute chick with the pink hair at the Apple Store. When I throw it out, I won’t think about the effect of the rare earth metals it contains on the groundwater in the community where it ends up; I won’t even watch the guy who comes by my house to take it away. I’ll just put it in a bag on the curb.

    Et cetera, et cetera. All of these things are real, and I implicitly approve of them every time I lovingly stroke my iPad (or my laptop, since I don’t have an iPad). I like to talk about how our society is “transactional” – and after every transaction a little bit of understanding is removed, and thus a vast mountain of waste, violence and abuse is hidden away from us.

    What to take from this: not that we should give up meat, iPads, jeans, wood furniture, etc. – all the accoutrements of our wonderfully developed civilization have an associated cost, for other living creatures, for the planet, for those not yet born. It might, in fact, be required that we give up some of those things in the course of solving this problem, but let’s keep our eye on the larger prize: WHAT IS A BETTER WAY TO LIVE? How can we live in a way that does NOT normalize these behaviors, does NOT make them disappear behind anonymous transactions, and continually demands that we find ways to improve the way we make things, so that they are healthier, better, saner?

          1. So, we should think that the world is flat and diseases are the product of leprechauns living in the stomach?

          2. Right, instead we can just drive the herds off cliffs.  We really knew how to solve problems back then.

          3. Non-ideologically and psychologically based on our acquired knowledge of the world. How stupid might we appear to our descendants? Maybe there is no good and bad here and only the need to construct a workable world view which can never be absolutely right or wrong. Science has lots of information but struggles to construct a model which is not based on belief. Our not so distant ancestors did not. A fusion of the two would seem desirable.

      1.  I don’t think we could, even if we wanted to. We’re beings produced by our history and our present; we certainly couldn’t “go back” without eradicating that history, which would involve erasing ourselves. I’m not sure I want to do that; it seems like a good way to repeat our mistakes. Let’s move forward instead, taking lessons from the past, but correcting the blemishes.

  5. A while back I went on a tour of a meat packing company along with other representatives from my company (a large grocery firm) – the packers mostly process beef but other meats as well. The beef is the only thing they actually kill on-site, though. So we were looking at the whole process from hoof to packaging. What impressed me was just how careful the operation was about contamination (obviously very important given the breakouts of e.coli and CJD, etc. in the industry) and just overall cleanliness and organization. 

    They kill and process around 400 head of cattle a day in the plant and every single part of the animal is used in some way – nothing is wasted. Once the head and leather have been removed there is around 1200-1500 lbs of cow to process, about 700lbs become the cuts of meat that we love the most. Several times during the process the meat is washed with either water or lactic acid to kill any contaminants. Inspectors and graders are involved through the entire process.

    The killing floor wasn’t as distressing as I figured it might be. The knock-box, the contraption into which the cow walks where to be rendered unconscious via an electric shock to the brain before slaughter, was designed by animal advocate Temple Grandin to be as humane and non-stressful as possible. They even have rules about how many people can be visible to the cows (three or four total from the feedlot to the box) so as not to freak them out – this makes good business sense as well as distress can actually cause a change in the blood system of the cow, and affect the taste of the meat. So we watched cows come into the ‘box’, and as its head enters a cradle, and a worker puts a chain around a hind leg, the cradle lifts the cow’s head and the knocker comes down, fairly smoothly and quickly, and shocks the animal, which passes out instantly – almost the same moment, the throat is cut, killing the cow and then the chain lifts the animal up causing it to bleed out. No mooing or jostling, the animals were very calm. The room was probably the most horror-show part of the tour, of course, the blood pouring out of the jugular more or less like bucket being emptied, very smooth. It wasn’t smelly or acrid at all – sort of a sweet smell really. The blood drains into a hole in the floor (which was stained red, about an inch of steamy blood all over) where it’s collected for various purposes. The carcasses proceed along into the next room where the cow is washed and gutted (two or three cuts and then everything more or less falls out into a waiting container which is then taken for processing elsewhere in the plant), then the carcass moves along to a point where the leather is removed by a machine with two operators on either side. The carcass is then beheaded and sided and then moves to refrigeration room where several hundred carcasses wait to be graded by government inspectors. Once graded, the carcasses are butchered into sections and continue to other areas where various store cuts are created and packaged. Several times during the day, all the work areas are cleaned and disinfected as well. 
    (just as an aside, it was interesting to see that even up to 10-15 minutes after the slaughter and siding, slight muscle movement could be seen in the sides hanging pre-refrigeration/grading. A little spooky but also completely natural.) 

    The fine processing areas were all kept quite chilly – but the harvesting area (where the killing floor and the siding, deleathering, etc happen, was very warm… but it’s not heated artificially – all the heat comes from the cows’ bodies. 

    During the tour as we were moving between the different processing areas, we had to change into and out of disposable lab coats and gloves, hairnets and helmets as well as rubber boots, several times. As well our boots were brushed and washed, and we had to wash our hands at each entry or exit. All jewellery had to be pocketed too. No photos of course. 

    They had a separate kosher area – the kosher slaughter is very different. Particular cows are chosen by a rabbi. The cows are led into the knockbox but they don’t get knocked, the rabbi cuts their throat and there’s usually a fair amount of noise and struggling. The meat is cut differently (they don’t use the hind half, which goes off to non-kosher processing) and the meat is dipped in water for a period of time before being salted and washed (mimicking what the washes in the non-kosher process do) and then cut, all under a rabbi’s supervision. it seemed to me that the rabbis, who are probably paid more than anyone else on the floor, don’t actually do anything but watch. Except for the killing, they do nothing but stand around and keep an eye on the process. Great job! 

    Another interesting thing was that this particular plant processed meat and poultry not only for my company but for all of our competitors, and also for a number of deli companies, restaurants and some of the more recognizable high-priced butchers in town too. This is what I found most amusing. People think that the meat they’re buying from a hipster butcher shop are somehow different from the stuff they get at a grocery store but it’s all the same stuff, just a different label and twice as expensive. Of course the butcher shops do run some of their own in-store programs like aging but the meat is the same meat you’ll find elsewhere. Point being that the processing end of things is so heavily regulated and any store that does a decent volume is going to have to use an external processing plant just for safety reasons. 

    1.  ‘but they don’t get knocked, the rabbi cuts their throat and there’s usually a fair amount of noise and struggling.”  why is obvious animal abuse permitted because some cult demands it?

    2. Just because the meat is all processed in the same plant doesn’t mean the animals were all raised the same. 

    3. Temple Grandin pisses me off. She claims to care about animals so much because she can “think like an animal”, but if  her thought processes are so much like animals’ shouldn’t she have compassion and sympathy for them that would extend to her deciding they shouldn’t die? Does she think it would be okay for her to be led down a tunnel and knocked out with a bolt to the head? I’m sorry, but you’re not an “animal advocate” if you help design systems in which animals are killed. That’s just bullshit. Animal advocates stop eating meat and work on helping other people to see the beauty of animals and the joy in life they take when they are not forced to live in horrid confinement with a death sentence over their heads.

      No matter how “clean and efficient” death is made to look, it’s still death. Do you have a dog or a cat? Do you mind if I take your dog or cat away from you so they can be cleanly and efficiently killed and made into a burger today? Cause, you see, I’m really hungry. I’ll pay you for them. There can’t be any reason you should object, it’s just an animal. I promise, they’ll have a really nice death.

      1. Man, if you don’t wanna eat meat, then don’t, but quit hating on those that do. Our species has eaten meat since before we were our species.

        One day soon we’ll be able to grow this stuff in factories and then everyone will be happy, so relax.

      2. I think that it’s unlikely that a large majority of people are going to stop eating beef anytime soon, and until that happens, steps should be taken to minimize the animals’ suffering as much as possible. Getting people to respect even that premise is a good first step towards a broader application of compassion.

  6. Unlike the past, where everyone was responsible for killing their own?  When everyone was involved in slaughter?

    1. People eat far more meat now than they did in the past; eating meat has many other, ancillary effects. The point is not your direct involvement; that is merely a matter of personal fetish. The point is, you ARE involved in the slaughter, by demanding and supporting it, and it is the AWARENESS of your involvement that is removed, by having the violence sequestered away from you. This results in a problem: it is possible for you to ignore that violence (or other problematic effects of your patterns of consumption, such as the amount of land and water required to feed the cattle, the pesticide and fertilizer runoff it produces, the vast quantities of toxic shit produced in a feedlot, etc.) because of the manner in which it is produced, and in fact our system of production ENCOURAGES you to ignore that by compartmentalizing away those distasteful aspects of it. As Timothy says, this probably isn’t deliberate – no one is deliberately planning, “Hmm, how can I keep sarah from finding out how her meat is produced?”, but the result is the same: you eat meat without a greater awareness of the problems inherent in the process of its production.

      What this means is your ability to be a moral actor is reduced because your information is reduced; you don’t have a clear picture, and your decisions occur in a framework that is highly contingent on others; you CANNOT be responsible, because the system of production is out of your control. In fact, there isn’t really anyone in control, except possibly the “invisible hand” of “market forces” or some such.

      So the question is: how can we bring our systems of production more fully under the control of our ethical sense? Hopefully while maintaining their productivity.

      1.  There is a big difference between concealment and lack of active publicity that Mr. Pachirat elides (likely because talking about concealment supports his political inclinations). Slaughterhouses ‘conceal’ their activities in the same way any well-run tire factory or law office or chip maker ‘conceals’ their activities: they are private businesses whose point is the pursuit of their trade without unnecessary actors randomly walking around. I don’t show the contents of my desk or my employer’s files to anyone who walks in off the street.

        It is certainly no nefarious conspiracy. Anyone who has access to google and a few spare minutes can find out how a modern, industrialized slaughterhouse works. Unless someone is already coming into the discussion with a radical agenda, nothing involved in a slaughterhouse has anything to do with the ‘slaughterhouse as mysterious temple of politicized violence’ idea that Mr. Pachirat implies.

        1. do any of those other examples produce items we EAT?

          most of those other businesses (particularly the law office and chip maker) have strict industry guidelines with regard to documenting their development processes (iso9001 in the case of the latter).

          none of those businesses have paid lobbyists in the $M to make it illegal to posses s or distribute legally obtained materials for publishing the realities of their non-IP infringing processes.
          if you think it’s a lack of publication rather than concealment, you haven’t been paying attention.  and that’s typical.  but before commenting perhaps you should go back and read the article more carefully. 

        2. No nefarious conspiracy?  Iowa just passed an ag-gag law making it a felony to gain employment in a slaughterhouse in order to reveal what happens there.  Florida, Nebraska, Minnesota, Utah, Illinois, Indiana, and New York have similar laws in the making, all lobbied for by the meat and agricultural industries.  
          There are no equivalent laws for tire factories, chip makers, or, most likely, for your employer.  This is why, when it comes to industrialized killing, it does makes sense for Pachirat to talk about concealment rather than the more passive, “lack of active publicity.”  See coverage of the Iowa and other “ag-gag” laws here:

          1. There are no equivalent laws for tire factories, chip makers, or, most likely, for your employer. 

            If there were activist groups advocating illegal action to shut down chip fabricators or tire makers, there would be such laws.

        3.  Both I and Mr. Pachirat said that this is not an active conspiracy, and the point is not that someone is “hiding the truth” from you; the point is that information is compartmentalized as a result of bureaucracy; it is this systemic partitioning of information that allows violence to become routine and accepted where it might otherwise not be; he illustrates some tools whereby this happens in the slaughterhouse (having a single individual who operates the knocker, etc.). I think you seriously misread the interview.

          1. Compartmentalisation is a feature of every industrial undertaking; the desire is to have every worker focus on their specific task without needing to understand the entirety of what is being produced.  As other people have stated, there are legitimate reasons for keeping the “dirty” and the “clean” separate, just as there are reasons for limiting how many people come in contact with the still-living cow. 

          2. Justin Runia: …yes, and the point of this guy’s work is to examine the effect of that compartmentalization, necessary or not, on our society. The point of it is, there is a structural deficiency. The structure requires X; X produces a problem Y; Y cannot be removed without altering the structure. The fact that X is necessary is absolutely the point.

          3. @faplap:disqus said: “The structure requires X; X produces a problem Y; Y cannot be removed without altering the structure. The fact that X is necessary is absolutely the point.”

            one can argue, and people have in these threads, that all four of those points are not absolute truisms.
            eating does not require killing (animals in this magnitude) (structure requires X).
            eating does not require killing (animals in this magnitude) (X produces problem Y)

            killing animals does not require the active conspiracy (apply to each of your attempted logical statements)

            the meat industry has decided that their current biz models depend upon hiding the details from the everyday consumer.  that doesn’t make it required for their biz models, let alone our society in general, even if we assume eating meat is required.

  7. Godwin’s law before even the first counter argument is launched.  Wow!

    I raise and butcher much of  the meat my family consumes.  These are animals that I care very much about.  I feel sad when they are gone.  However, they are not human.  I am a human.  There is a huge difference.

    Here is someone trying to raise anything with a pulse to a human level. That is absurd.

    Unfortunately we as society has become more industrial & urbanized we have come to the point where many people have no direct experience with where their food comes from and most have at best a very detached experience with it.  This detachment allows such absurd mythos to be developed about why and how our food gets to our plate. Yes – this guy did go to work in a slaughter house but he did so with a particular mind set and used that to color everything he did and saw.  He did not see it for what it really is.

    A slaughter house is built for efficiency and cleanliness.  It is not built to hide or ritualize death.  This sounds like some fantasy perception this guy has of the world and now he tries to put layer upon layer of “meaning” on everything.  I have seen this with many English/Literature teachers & professors.  I call bullshit.  Many times the only layers of meaning are the layers of prejudice they have going into the situation.  Usually something is just what it appears to be on the surface.  In my opinion – this guy is a nut job. 

    1.  “However, they are not human.  I am a human.  There is a huge difference.”

      This is where you lost me.  Is that a theology based ego or something different?

      People aren’t more important than cows, in the same way cows aren’t more important than sheep – we’re all just animals sitting on a spinning rock.  Systematic murder for a need you don’t even have isn’t justified so easily I’m afraid.

      1. Of course we’re different.  Cows aren’t capable of wiping out the planet’s ecosystem in order to get themselves off it permanently, expanding outwards across space resulting in a galaxy filled with cow civilizations.

        On less contentious points:  cows can’t write Romeo and Juliet, they can’t discover the Theory of Relativity (or Gravity), nor are they capable of sculpting Michaelangelo’s “David”, nor even of painting the Mona Lisa, and they can’t even compose cantatas.  (I’ll admit most humans can’t compose cantatas better than Bach, but he was a human so I assert that’s not relevant)

        -abs thinks that makes us “better” than them, but clearly you may feel free to disagree

        1. indeed, i believe you may have made his argument for him.  but this depends on your perspective and relative tolerance for “ethics”.

          just as in the Geneva conventions (no torture), one side has to be the better “man”, lest they devolve into the world of beasts.   Aka, “we know better”.

          and this is only the philosophical/torture argument.  see other comments for environmental and financial arguments.  see the article for sociological/psychological arguments, some of which we all pay for as a society.

          1. I’m aware that my points may make his point for many people.  I even concede that his point may be more enlightened than my personal beliefs.

            However, personally, I value sentience and intelligence more than I value life.  I value them to the degree that I’d be perfectly happy to turn the whole Earth into a radiated wasteland incapable of supporting life if that was the cost of spreading humans across the galaxy.  I hope that’s not the cost, I wouldn’t like to pay that cost, but I do believe in self-propagation so I’d be willing to do so if that was the only way to get off this planet.

            And yes, I’m not a “good” person by many people’s standards.  But I can live with that relative immorality if it means getting us off this planet.  (which is a trap, as long as we’re a single-planet species we’re doomed to relatively quick extinction given how humans breed and use resources)

            -abs will graciously allow anyone the right to disagree with him, he looks forward to combat by voting

          2. @boingboing-872dd316eb8a432cbc63f141e2d68ded:disqus , for whatever reason i can’t reply below your reply… :-

            very interesting position.  while i agree the planet is a trap, even disregarding our current predilection to replicate and exhaust resources.  i’m curious as to why YOU think it’s so important to save such a species?

            in addition, it’s pretty obvious that evolution is adept at adaption.  humans have vast innovation capabilities.  what if these two could combine to reduce the effect of us on the trap and the trap on us?

            eating less meat while feeding our growing and healthier population is one such innovation…

            escaping the earth altogether is probably not feasible in several generations.  not to mention we’d have the same, if not enhanced, problems if we found another “trap”…

          3. @boingboing-3cdacdba0a3e4bf931fbe577ee4f94f7:disqus 
            Yeah, I’ve noticed that after a certain number of replies you can’t reply to the replies. (and, Damn if I can’t figure out how to get this down farther where it belongs.)

            The reason I think we (as a species) are worth saving is that I value technic intelligence and we are the only example of it that I currently know of.  (I specify “technic intelligence” because I suspect whales and dolphins are way smarter than we think they are but they don’t build things so I value them less.)  I don’t really have another legitimate reason.

            Now I’ll admit to an illegitimate reason.  Even if I had proof that there was another technologically advanced species on Alpha Centauri (say that they sent us a radio signal) or elsewhere I’d still want to propagate humanity across the galaxy.  Here’s me admitting that it’s nothing more than tribalism though.  I value our species survival because I am one of us.  (besides, I do like Michaelangelo’s David, and Bach’s compositions, though I think the Mona Lisa is crap)

            And, having explicated both virtuous, and non-virtuous, reasons for my belief let me say that I agree that I would far rather we didn’t destroy the ecosphere getting off this planet.  Even if if wouldn’t make we weep (because “Nature” is beautiful) it’s practical, we find all sorts of useful stuff in bio-diversity.

            Of course eating less meat (or none) helps preserve that biodiversity.  It also expands the timeframe between now and ecological collapse, which increases the odds that we live long enough to get off the planet.  Personally I eat a lot less meat than I used to when I grew up, and my wife being a vegetarian is a big component of that.

            I just don’t think that cows are as valuable as people are.  And I think that’s an opinion, not a prove-able.  I feel similarly about people who categorically state people and cows are as valuabluable as each other, that’s also just an opinion.  And while everyone is entitled to their opinions, in my opinion no one is entitled to claim opinion as fact.  (which is what I felt was being said by Nathan)

            -abs isn’t certain he answered all your question, let him know if he’s wrong.

          4. @absimiliard
            interesting way of assigning value based upon the strengths inherent therein.  you can and i’m sure will assign value in any way you want.    what if i decided to say whales are better because they can communicate long distances underwater?  same thing.
            eitherway i don’t think your valuation makes us “worth saving”.  saying we’re worth saving because we’re better since the only metric is the only things we’re better at, isn’t saying anything at all. 

            of course it is ironic that we’re the only ones that have the faculties to debate the value of ourselves amongst the system while that the sametime having the faculties to overtly alter the entire system to suit our needs at the expense of the others (there are some exceptions).  not to mention the system would do just fine without us.

            the only reason left to “save us” is just because we “wanna”.

            the reason i use, in general is that nature created it this way before we started mucking around in it. 
            therefor we should try to live in balance with nature in every way possible as a society.  every way we’ve tried to game the system to our advantage has failed or is showing its arrogance and/or ignorance.  (invasive species, climate change, etc)

            i think few would argue that our current industrialized meat industry (along with other forms of industrialized agriculture, but with less negative impact) is in sustainable balance with nature.

          5. Quoth OorictoO:  “of course it is ironic that we’re the only ones that have the faculties to debate the value of ourselves amongst the system while that the sametime having the faculties to overtly alter the entire system to suit our needs at the expense of the others (there are some exceptions). ”

            Well, that kind of sums up why I value technic intelligence.

            But I’m still willing to fess up to the perfectly selfish reason that I value humanity because I’m a human.  I know it’s pure tribalism, but we’re a tribal species.

            I fear you are probably correct in your belief that, as a species, we are incapable of not screwing nature up through misconceptions.  I’m far from convinced that civilization as we know it is a sustainable thing.  That’s why I call Earth a trap.  I am convinced we either will get off it permanently, or we will die when we damage the ecosphere sufficiently.

            What I don’t believe is that we could actually kill off all life on Earth.  Life is extremely resilient, and extremely common.  I suspect we could easily wipe out life as we know it.  But there would still be extreomophile organisms left, at worst.  So given another few billion years I’m fairly sure evolution could breed another technic species on Earth.  But I’ll admit that’s too long a view for me, thus my desire to escape this planet while we can.  (and propagate technic intelligence in space)

            And may I say, fascinating conversation OoerictoO.  Thanks for engaging.

            -abs wishes a pithy saying here could sum up his feelings and disguise the “sig-ness” of this sig, but he can’t, so he’ll just admit this is a sig (and hope it doesn’t get this post deleted)

        2. “… cows can’t write Romeo and Juliet, they can’t discover the Theory of Relativity (or Gravity)…”
           I’ll play the devil’s advocate and ask that, if we correspond the right to be slaughtered for food by intelligence level, then that kid with Downs Syndrome down the street is looking mighty tasty, huh?

          1. If I was a cannibal sure.

            But cannibalism is a trait I abhor, I’d rather be dead than one of the Donners. (probably a result of my selfish love of humans because I am one)

            Proving that I AM a bad person, so that you may feel morally superior to me, I will agree that I don’t value that hypothetical kid’s life very much.  Personally, I think the Spartans had the right idea.

            -abs thinks your argument is fascinating, but it’s clear that intelligence is NOT the only variable involved in whether or not something should be food, in fact -abs would assert that there are far more important factors than intelligence (like the morality of cannibalism, or how tasty humans are vs. cows, or whether or not the energy to produce 1 pound of human meat is higher or lower than the energy to produce a pound of cow or for that matter a pound of vegetables)

    2.  Did you even read it?  He specifically says he’s not trying to morally equate slaughterhouses and Auschwitz.  I get the impression you skimmed, saw something you didn’t like, and jumped to a bunch of conclusions about what Pachirat was saying and why.  Nothing in your comment engages with the guy’s actual thesis.  (And he specifically says slaughterhouses weren’t designed to hide the killing — specifically says that.  I will never understand you people who comment without reading or understanding.)

    3. ” Here is someone trying to raise anything with a pulse to a human level. That is absurd.”

      How do you feel about the family dog or cat?  They don’t have to be at the same “level” of a human to have some kind of existential value.

    4. doco, have you read Pachirat’s book? The whole point of doing an ethnography is to to avoid  imposing armchair theories onto the subject while going into the field with an open mind and finding patterns of meaning that emerge from the lived experience. Pachirat’s book delivers handsomely in this regard. And please refrain from calling someone a “nut job” without trying to be in their shoes.

  8. Not sure why the anti-meat, anti-hunting folks spend so much of their effort trying to find a link between eating meat and being violent. I’ve been hunting whitetail deer since I was 8, and I’ve been in 1 fight my entire life, which I did not start. I’m not abusive, I don’t torture puppies and kitties. If you can’t stomach the thought of eating a cow, then don’t. However, keep your nose off of my dinner table.

    1. That’s fine and all.  No one is telling you not to eat meat.  What’s important is that people should see & know where their food, electronics, and clothing come from and what goes into making it.  Being that you’re a hunter, I’m guessing you kill and skin your deer.  Reading this interview, I didn’t get that they were making any connection to violence and eating meat.  It’s focusing on the hiding of violence from public eyes, like slaughter houses, prisons, sweat shops.  I just think things should be more transparent and also people should have to kill their own cows/fish/chickens at least one time to see how it actually feels.  I’m guessing the world would be filled with a lot more vegetarians.  I’ve been vegetarian for more than a decade and don’t preach to others about eating meat, (my dad hunts) but you’d be really surprised how many people actually get angry at me for not eating meat.  It’s really laughable.

      1. well said.  i get the same reaction.  perhaps persons who feel that others’ actions are a judgment on their’s should re-evaluate why they feel that way.

  9. And what is the huge difference between human and cow? Intelligence? If that’s the case, why aren’t intelligent humans given more rights than the mentally disadvantaged humans? Why can’t we eat humans with intelligence below at or below that of a cow?  Their ability to suffer is the same and that’s all that matters ethically.

    The arbitrary line that we draw between ourselves and “food animals” is the result of our love of convenience and tradition and the outmoded tribal instincts of our brain.

    1.  Brilliant idea, Mr. Swift! Let’s eat the poor AND the dumb. Finally, some people actually eat their vegetables.

    2. why aren’t intelligent humans given more rights than the mentally disadvantaged humans? I dont know this either. You are placing so mant great questions…you will need to answer them?

  10. I made the decision to stop eating animal products after watching a heart surgery. There was something about seeing a person in his early forties receiving a bypass procedure that made me say “I need to start eating better.” Seeing the documentary “Forks Over Knives” reinforced that decision.


        You are very confused. you sent me this link above against my argument that vegans suffer problems with their teeth…Mille, you know thats not a reliable link, its a shop / book website. I just told you quotes from people who actually deal with vegans as their dentist on a regular basis. You then told me to do some googling. So…if i get this right, you need a link to make something real or not. I need the dentist to provide you with a written statement. Millie, I have no idea what age you are. I hope you are under fifteen as an adult with this low level of comprehension is kinda scary. Research is the repeated search or the same subject, i think yours is’find what agrees with your latest point, then copy an paste it here. ok, fair enough, 

        (that link is also to some online shop, but they are not selling anything just some facts)

        here is a quote from said site: 

        The vegan diet lacks essential fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins from animal fats) and amino acids (from proteins) needed to help the body rebuild tissues and bones. Weston Price searched the world for a vegetarian culture and could not find one. A vegan diet therefore is not a primitive diet, but a new diet for modern times and one that our bodies are not designed for. In ancient times the concept of a vegan diet was not possible. In many regions there was not enough plant food to sustain life.

      1. Well, maybe not immortal, but I do feel much better physically and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have my sternum cracked open by a surgeon.

        1. How is it ‘unlikely’ , more like LESS likely…you’re far from immortal LOL. The next point is neither here or there, but your gums are disgusting, I know because I know a few dentists..they hate dealing with Veggy gobs because the damage to their gums is horrible. The multi vitmins dont replace meat. You must accept your genetically guided that way, the iron from meat cant be found anywhere else. Im irish right, my ancestors lived on a diet of hazel nuts and fish for best part of 3k years. These foods effect me more than any other food, because my ancestors have built this into my code.  This isnt new science, its just hard to accept logic. Get some beef in ya, and do it in moderation. Dont do the dog on it !!

          1. they hate dealing with Veggy gobs because the damage to their gums is horrible. The multi vitmins dont replace meat. You must accept your genetically guided that way, the iron from meat cant be found anywhere else.

            What a huge load of utter horseshit. Do a bit of Googling, my friend–


    1. I also recommend the sequel, Colon Replacement Surgery, as colon cancer is clearly linked to red meat consumption.

  11. I’m not a vegetarian now, I was in my teens, but not because I objected to eating animals, but to lose weight. I’m trying to go back to being a vegetarian for the same reason.

    I don’t object to eating other animals. Try arguing that point with a puma, a dog, or a monkey or an ape. But I do object to the industrialization of animals for food. There’s gotta be a better way. If it means less meat in our diets, so what?

    As for the difference between cows and humans? There is a huge difference. They’re bigger than we are. We’re from the family Hominidae, they’re from the Bovidae family. But for all they’re different from humans, they’re no less worthy of life than us. Neither are mice. Or squirrels. Or alligators. Or camels.

    But animals eat animals. Because we’re self-conscious, language using animals, we should respect the difference, but not abuse other animals. We should celebrate “food animals” and revere them for helping us to live. We should treat them with respect while they’re alive, and be careful to make their deaths as gentle as we can.

    As for seeing how everything we use or eat is made, c’mon, who has time for that? You could spend your entire life trying see where everything you use or eat is made. I appreciate the sentiment, but the practical application is ridiculous.

    1.  Almost gave you a “like” because I think your attitude towards the ethics of meat-eating is sensible, but I didn’t because I think your last para is dead wrong.  If you’re going to enjoy the sausage I think there’s something of a moral imperative to see how it’s made.  As for why, try watching the film Soylent Green.

  12. I must have missed the part in biology class where it was stated that cows are sentient.

    1. at the risk of replying to a troll…
      you must be kidding, had a horrible biology class, had a biology class that didn’t talk about relative sentience of mammals in general, or weren’t paying attention.

      they are clearly sentient, and that fact is not debated amongst the majority.  whether or not you caught it in biology class is irrelevant.

    2. You must have also missed the part of English class where you learned the definition of sentient. It means conscious.

  13. Avi, please clarify, did you interview Timothy or send him questions to answer via email? I wanted to read and enjoy this post but found it too academic. Oral responses are generally much more accessible. Interviewees communicate, writers expound.

  14. Humans are omnivores, and they’re going to eat meat. Veganism is a privilege of living in the industrial world; go to any third-world country and you will see that meat –energy-dense nutrition– is a highly valued food. I appreciate the points this gentleman is making about industrialized and largely hidden violence that underpins our modern lifestyles of comfort and convenience.

    Is it better to remain ignorant of the systems in which you casually participate? Or should you become aware of these things and then consciously choose to participate or not. I believe ignorance is piss, and people need to be aware of that in which they participate on a daily basis. Troubling is the mention that information about slaughterhouse practices may become a crime.

    For me, not eating industrial meat is about respect: no, a cow is not a human, but the process they undergo is done with a mechanistic & callous concern for their existence. In attention and lack of concern about such matters enables the massive violence done, ostensibly, in our name. Violence exists in he world, of course… You have to kill to eat. But mechanized inhuman violence leads to loss of respect for others, and a loss of respect for the world around you allows us to trash the world, fish out the seas, pollute the air, and bomb foreigners.

    1. I’m totally with you on this until the assertion that, “mechanized inhuman violence leads to loss of respect for others, and a loss of respect for the world around you allows us to trash the world, fish out the seas, pollute the air, and bomb foreigners.”  

      I think its lack of respect for others that leads to violence, not the other way around…  We did plenty of that horrible stuff with only swords and fire.  The machines just amplify the “inhumanity” (read: humanity) that already exists and reduce the number of participants in the violent acts…  But you’re right: we need to look at these places and ask ourselves if we’re ok with mass slaughter, mechanized or not.

  15. Squeamishness is the price we pay for a technologically advanced society. It is a luxury to be squeamish. Imagine the government passed a law: all people may only eat meat that someone in their household has personally killed and butchered. The government opens huge state-sanctioned cattle ranges and hunting reserves. The meat is there, they say, but you gotta get it yourself. What would be the effect?

    An instant and massive drop-off in the amount of meat consumed; a huge rise in consumption of beans and rice.

    For a while.

    Then once hunting and home butchery became normalised again, once word spread that – hey! – you can remove leather and viscera at home and eat tasty beef like you used to, people would become accustomed to it once more and there would be a gradual resurgence of meat eating. Like people did for millennia before industrialised slaughterhouses!

    I do not believe that either situation is morally superior to the other.

    1. Squeamishness, exactly the word I was looking for.  When he was asked ”Did the death factories of Auschwitz have the same mechanisms at work…” i actually groaned . Was there a follow up question about death being concealed like nazism . Grow a bloodly brain, jez i said bloody!! oops. This is the most stupid , pointless, irrelevant story on boingboing.    

  16. 20-year vegetarian here. Comparisons to Auschwitz, as Pachirat made clear, are not about drawing exact equivalencies but rather finding parallels. Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote, “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” Another Nobel Prize winner, J.M. Coetzee, wrote, “… in the 20th century, a group of powerful and bloody-minded men in Germany hit on the idea of adapting the methods of the industrial stockyard, as pioneered and perfected in Chicago, to the slaughter — or what they preferred to call the processing — of human beings.”

    Of COURSE the slaughterhouses are designed to conceal the killing from the majority of workers. Pachirat states clearly that this kind of design is not necessarily “deliberate” but is rather the inevitable result of industrialization and the bureaucratizing of mass production. The violence of the system must be hidden, both from the participants and those who consume the products.

    I have told people for years that if they want to change their lives they should give up meat for 30 days. The vegetarian experience is “state specific;” you can’t describe it, it has to be experienced. One man told me he noticed he was “less aggressive” when he was a vegetarian. A rotund and semi-healthy colleague decided to try it and he was blown away. “It’s like discovering a whole new kind of food! Plus, my bowel movements are so regular!” He was also astounded at the amount of hostility he encountered from meat eaters. Many people get VERY threatened by vegetarians, and they often resort to insults or passive-aggressive jokes.

    I think most meat eaters know somewhere deep inside — often very deep inside — that their diet is the cause of massive torture and suffering among animals. The worst thing we can do is lie to ourselves. Denial always emerges in unhealthy ways.

    1. I know my diet is the cause of massive torture and suffering amongst animals, absolutely. Guess what else? Don’t care. When we stop torturing and killing each other, then maybe we can deal with the animals who are only there in the first place for us to consume. Till then, I will happily and without moral reservation eat ribs and burgers and whatever else. I’m certainly not pro-violence just for the sake of doing it, and if we could produce meat products just as efficiently without causing as much discomfort to animals, then sure, I’m all for it…but if it comes down to a little chicken in a little cage vs. paying 45 dollars for chicken breasts at the supermarket, then it’s really no contest. I like animals, and we shouldn’t do nasty things to them if we can avoid it, but at the end of the day, people are more important than chickens. Simple as that. Yes, they can feel pain, yes, they experience suffering…but who gives a shit? It’s a damn chicken! As I said, as soon as we stop PEOPLE’S suffering all over the world, then I’m totally onboard to help chickens and pigs and other really, really stupid animals.

  17. One way you can look at this is that these cows are not animals that would have been born naturally in a meadow somewhere by some wild free-ranging herd.   These are “products” that have been grown by a company for the sole purpose of becoming food, same as an ear of corn  or a salmon from a fish farm.  That might make you feel a little bit better when you gnosh on that medium rare rib-eye.  But they’re big and cute and friendly and sentient.  They feel pain.  The fact that Americans demand so much cheap meat allows this process to continue.
    Fact is that if you see videos of how this process takes place for all cows, chicken and pigs and the abuses that take place and the chemicals that are pumped into the live animals to keep them from getting sick, the de-beaking of chickens, read the news stories of toddlers dying from e. Coli they got from eating a McDonald’s hamburger, pink slime, etc., etc. you might be strongly inclined to become vegan…or at least eat a lot less meat.

    Being a vegan is difficult, though.  Variety is limited and it’s very expensive.  Society is geared towards meat eaters.  I worked with a vegan who always seemed like she was sick/sickly.

    1. I have to disagree about being a vegan, Analog Kid.  I’ve been vegan for over two years now, and find it very easy and endless in its variety.  There is a multitude of naturally vegan food in every grocery store, and hundreds of great cookbooks.  It is no more expensive (and often much cheaper) than buying animal products — look at the price and volume of rice and beans versus beef, for example.  It may be difficult to find vegan food in restaurants (although this is changing, too), but I can’t afford to eat in restaurants regularly.  If you do, then you certainly can afford to buy high quality produce.

      And the fact that the “cows are not animals that would have been born naturally in a meadow somewhere . . . . [but] are ‘products’ that have been grown by a company for the sole purpose of becoming food” seems to me to be rather a stronger argument AGAINST eating them.  Manipulating nature and breeding billions of animals for the sole purpose of killing them to feed an already overfed population, combined with the inherent resultant overcrowding and pollution generated, just seems wrong to me.

      As for your observation that you worked with ONE “vegan who always seemed like she was sick/sickly” — I work with and see on a daily basis DOZENS of omnivores suffering from obesity and heart disease.  I am over 50, and have no chronic illnesses or conditions, save from being hypothyroid (a condition I was diagnosed with when I was 35 and an omnivore).  I take my thyroid replacement and vitamin B-12, and that is it.  The omnivores I know have multiple health issues and take a slew of vitamins and medications for asthma, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and erectile disfunction.  So, who are the unhealthy ones?

  18. I highly recommend reading Pachirat’s book at full length. This interview is a good taste of his book which is truly insightful. I truly admire Pachirat’s guts to go undercover for the amount of time he did, and work under conditions that most Americans would never  even consider.

  19. I am not usually one for leaving comments on blog posts, particularly after a litany of 96 of them. However, I feel compelled to say something in this case so I hope you will consider it if you revisit your own comments. Much of the written response to this interview has revolved around animal rights and food consumption. This makes sense given that Pachirat worked undercover in a slaughterhouse and walks the reader through 292 pages of the physical, psychological, emotional, and political work of industrialized killing (with intensely detailed narrative I might add). So, of course everyone is going to begin to raise questions about vegetarianism, animal rights, government responsibility for health and safety regulations etc., and whether or not we should stop eating meat as some type of moral imperative. Rather than continuing with this line of thinking, I would like to encourage the reader (and I agree with the comment that the full length book is well worth the read) to take several steps back from the specific case of industrialized slaughter and consider what this book might also tell us about ourselves, our social world, and the many individual and collective strategies we employ to mediate and rationalize the life choices we make every day. The underlying question for me when I read this account was clear: how and why do we (me included) distance and shield ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously, from practices and realities that we are connected to in very real and intimate ways; practices and realities that work to sustain the societal positions and consumptive patterns we embody (often privileged ones)? While I was reading this book I kept thinking not only about the slaughterhouse, but also about the joint politics of power and distance (what we see and don’t see) that allow me to walk into a store and purchase a t-shirt while knowing little about who made the t-shirt, where it was made, and under what conditions it was made, or buying my coffee in a throwaway cup without thinking about the generations of hands (not to mention the environmental policies) that cultivated the coffee beans ending up in my $4.00 latte. Pachirat’s book forces us to think deeply about how we construct an understanding of the notion of violence in everyday terms—one that draws attention to our own complicity. It is not an easy set of questions to ask because it makes us uncomfortable in our own skin and pushes us to see ourselves as players in a world that is much easier to critique from a safe and protected space of righteousness. Nonetheless, these are questions we should continue to ask as we position ourselves, ostensibly, as engaged citizens of the world. For encouraging me to think about myself in this way Mr. Pachirat, I say thank you.

  20. The interview has been translated into Italian here:

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