Every Twelve Seconds

Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Every Twelve Seconds
    Book Description:

    This is an account of industrialized killing from a participant's point of view. The author, political scientist Timothy Pachirat, was employed undercover for five months in a Great Plains slaughterhouse where 2,500 cattle were killed per day-one every twelve seconds. Working in the cooler as a liver hanger, in the chutes as a cattle driver, and on the kill floor as a food-safety quality-control worker, Pachirat experienced firsthand the realities of the work of killing in modern society. He uses those experiences to explore not only the slaughter industry but also how, as a society, we facilitate violent labor and hide away that which is too repugnant to contemplate.

    Through his vivid narrative and ethnographic approach, Pachirat brings to life massive, routine killing from the perspective of those who take part in it. He shows how surveillance and sequestration operate within the slaughterhouse and in its interactions with the community at large. He also considers how society is organized to distance and hide uncomfortable realities from view. With much to say about issues ranging from the sociology of violence and modern food production to animal rights and welfare,Every Twelve Secondsis an important and disturbing work.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15268-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. I Hidden in Plain Sight
    (pp. 1-19)

    In 2004, six cattle escaped from the holding pen of an in dustrialized slaughterhouse in Omaha, Nebraska. According to theOmaha World Herald, which featured the story on its front page, four of the six cattle made an immediate run for the parking lot of nearby Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, where they were recaptured and transported back to be slaughtered. A fifth animal trotted down a main boulevard to the railroad yards that used to service Omaha’s once-booming stockyards. The sixth, a cream-colored cow, accompanied the fifth animal partway before turning into an alleyway leading to another slaughterhouse.¹...

  5. II The Place Where Blood Flows
    (pp. 20-37)

    The wind grants wings to the spilled blood of the slaughterhouse, carrying its stench to the farthest reaches of the city in one direction before halting, reversing, and invading the opposite end. An old-timer living five miles east of the Omaha stockyards on the west bank of the Missouri River remembers the wind pushing the odors of the dead and dying through the walls of her family’s home, subjugating them for days at a time to the olfactory reign of the slaughterhouse. In the mid-twentieth century, Omaha surpassed even Chicago, Carl Sandburg’s “hog butcher for the world” and the city...

  6. III Kill Floor
    (pp. 38-84)

    No direct route connects the kill floor and front office. The quickest way to move from one to the other is to leave the building and walk around the perimeter. Otherwise, travel between the two necessitates a circuitous route through the cooler and the fabrication department. The kill floor and front office are as far apart physically as possible without being separated into two distinct buildings, an isolation that is mirrored bureaucratically. Whereas front-office staff supervise the fabrication department, the kill floor administrators are housed in offices on the floor. In this state of physical and bureaucratic isolation from both...

  7. IV “Es todo por hoy”
    (pp. 85-107)

    In March 2004 I traveled to Omaha for the first time to survey the area and get a sense of the likelihood of gaining employment in one of the industrialized slaughterhouses there. At that time I made no personal contact with anyone in the slaughterhouses, limiting my interactions to taking photographs of the exteriors of the buildings, mapping their geographical locations, and making telephone inquiries about the availability of entry-level work. The response I received from my telephone inquiries was invariably some variation of “We’re always hiring. Just show up in person.” This indicator of the ready availability of jobs...

  8. V One Hundred Thousand Livers
    (pp. 108-139)

    “Hello, asshole.”

    The words float back from the front of the line, low and unmistakable. It is 6:45 a.m. on my first full day as a slaughterhouse employee, and I have had the weekend to make some sense of the confusing jumble of safety and training videos I was shown on Friday and to mull over what it might mean to be a “liver packer.” Anticipating the cold working environment, I have on long underwear under my jeans and two layers of sweatshirts on top of short- and long-sleeved T-shirts. I also have a small lock and key, which I...

  9. VI Killing at Close Range
    (pp. 140-161)

    “Guys, no more livers next week.”

    It is James, the red-hat supervisor in charge of the cooler, and he mumbles the words as he hands Ramón and me our Friday paychecks in the warming room while we take off our gear and get ready to head home. “But don’t worry,” he quickly adds, “we’ll try to find some work for you guys. Just come back on Monday and we’ll try to find something else.”

    We learn later that Russia or Korea—nobody really seems to know which—has temporarily stopped importing livers, and the management has decided to stop packing...

  10. VII Control of Quality
    (pp. 162-207)

    “You look tired,” Javier says to me on break one morning a week after I have been moved back from the chutes to hanging livers in the cooler with Ramón. “I am tired. I only slept four hours last night.”

    “Why? Do you have another job?”

    “No, I was reading. How about you?”

    “Tired too.”

    “Do you have another job?” Javier shakes his head. “Well, why are you tired?”

    “I don’t know,” his voice trails off. “Just tired.”

    “Hey, where’s Julia?” I ask, referring to one of the women with a green hard hat who sometimes takes her breaks with...

  11. VIII Quality of Control
    (pp. 208-232)

    Taken literally as measuring, sampling, and testing for food safety, quality-control work also has a second face that looks as much inward to the control of worker and animal bodies on the kill floor as it does outward to the control of food quality. Armed with the rationale of food safety and the technology of radio communication that puts them in instant communication with kill floor managers, QCs are also deployed by the management to assist with the surveillance and control of bodies, both human and nonhuman, to enforce the discipline necessary for industrialized killing. In the course of their...

  12. IX A Politics of Sight
    (pp. 233-256)

    “We’ve been watching you,” Donald says to me suddenly one day. It is 6:00 a.m., and I have just completed the pre-operational inspection. The two of us are standing near the vacuum stands, out of sight of the kill floor manager’s office. “We’ve been watching you,” he repeats, “and we think you’re a pretty good guy.”

    “Okay,” I respond warily.

    “Well, you know there’s shit on this meat, don’t you? We’d like you to talk to us about what’s going on at this plant.”

    I am silent.

    “You have kids, right? You want them eating this meat? Think about it,...

  13. Appendix A: Division of Labor on the Kill Floor
    (pp. 257-270)
  14. Appendix B: Cattle Body Parts and Their Uses
    (pp. 271-274)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 275-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-302)