How do self-professed animal lovers reconcile their love of animals with eating them? To eat animals today is to almost always participate in a gigantic cycle of industrialized violence and brutality against animals. Animal lovers eating animals—despite today's plant alternatives—now strikes me as one of the more unsettling examples of self-deception, denial, and moral blindness in human affairs. Yet another instance of the banality of evil? In Every Twelve Seconds, Timothy Pachirat, who took up a job in a slaughterhouse to learn how society normalizes violence against animals, describes his experiences. Here is an interview with the author.
Timothy: 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 [nearly a million per hour], 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.
Update: Read an essay I wrote in mid 2012, On Eating Animals, which generated animated discussion on 3 Quarks Daily.