Every Twelve Seconds: Animal Suffering and Normalized Violence

On Monday I wrote about the horrific conditions for laying hens, which reminded me of this Opinionator piece by Mark Bittman from a few weeks back.

He draws attention to this new book by Timothy Pachirat, out from Yale University Press–Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.

Perhaps the cover says more than the title:

From the Yale Press 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.

I’m really intrigued by the phrase in the subtitle: “the politics of sight.”

I would rather not see the sweatshop workers sewing my jeans.

I would rather not see the landfills filled with the crap I’ve thrown away.

I would rather not see how the people who pick the grapes I eat are treated.

What other things would we prefer be invisible? How does relying on invisibility contribute to an increasingly violent and less empathetic world?

{Then there’s that lunatic farmer somewhere in Virginia who has an open-air slaughterhouse…huh. Got nothing to hide, I guess.}

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6 thoughts on “Every Twelve Seconds: Animal Suffering and Normalized Violence

  1. Great post, Rachel…there are so many “invisible” things going on, that we don’t want to see.
    As I read the description of the animal slaughterhouse, I contrasted that with the men in my neighborhood who, two winters ago, took me on a deer hunt with them. We were neighbors, relatives, and friends, and it was a combination of social reunion and communal work. We hunted on one man’s farmland, killing deer who had been eating his corn & beans. I missed my shot, but several others were more successful and (with their patient instruction) I helped clean, skin, and butcher the various deer, a job which required cooperation and skill. I won’t romanticize it: there were slimy and odoriferous moments. But it brought me close to my neighbors, our land, and our food in a way that few other moments have. And the next day, when they gave us some of the meat and Mel turned it into an amazing dinner for friends, I experienced a sense of “feasting” that shrinkwrapped hamburger has never brought to me.

  2. I’m so glad you brought this book to my attention! As far as food is concerned, I’d rather not see what goes on inside my internal organs when I eat a standard Americand diet…which is more often than not!…but on a more meaningful note, I think Tim takes the point here!

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