Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight By Timothy Pachirat
From All-Creatures.org Book Reviews

Author: Timothy Pachirat

Reviewed by: Several people

Publisher: Yale University Press

Every 12 Seconds
Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight
Available at Amazon
ISBN-10: ISBN 0300152671 (ISBN13: 9780300152678)


“Every 12 Seconds” is a damning depiction of the dynamics in a typical cattle slaughterhouse, where management, labor and USDA inspectors operate in a state of perpetual conflict and cross-purposes. Pachirat, who was undercover in the slaughterhouse for several months, demonstrates how plant managers routinely falsify documents to hide violations of food-safety and animal-welfare standards, while line workers routinely ignore sanitation and hygiene rules. What makes this book so powerful and so authoritative is that it is written from an academic, somewhat detached perspective. Pachirat is not an animal-rights activist; he's a political science professor. And rest assured that the operators of the unidentified slaughterhouse in this book are not "bad apples," relative to their competitors in the meat industry. The particular slaughterhouse described in this book was hailed by the USDA as one of the best in the country. Makes you shudder to think what is happening in less-acclaimed slaughterhouses. The only thing I would change is the bloody image on the book’s cover, which seems calculated to ensure that as few people as possible will pick up a copy of this otherwise excellent book.
~ Jeffrey Cohan, JewishVeg.org

This immensely informative and wonderfully written book is part sociological analysis of the physical, class, racial, and power structures that define the modern-day slaughterhouse and part memoir of the author's six months working in a Omaha slaughterhouse, as both worker and "management." Pachirat (whom I know socially) is a conscientious and meticulous recorder of what he sees and experiences, and I found his station-by-station description of what it takes to turn a living, breathing being into two slabs of eviscerated carcass revelatory. Pachirat documents the extraordinary amount of elaborate machinery involved in the disassembly line and describes the many skills required of the 121 different stations in precise and clinical detail. I was left in no doubt that the slaughterhouse management took their tasks seriously (even if self-protectively) and that workers labored mightily (even if all of them would have preferred to do anything else but the work in front of them). Indeed, after reading this book I find myself awed by the sophistication of a system that can kill 2,400 cattle in a day, and separate each carcass from its liver, hooves, head, viscera, hair, hide, and even eyeballs. Like a Frederick Wiseman documentary of an institution going about its ordinary day, there's something admirably efficient and professional about it all: the exercise of human ingenuity satisfying a demonstrable demand. On the other hand, as Pachirat demonstrates vividly, the means of doing this remain as ugly, demoralizing, and dehumanizing as they were when Upton Sinclair wrote THE JUNGLE over a century ago. Feces, urine, ingesta (straw), intestines, vomit, and blood swamp the killing and evisceration areas. Few want to be the "knocker" (who stuns the animal before her or his throat is cut) because the job is so psychologically disturbing. For all the attempts to sanitize it (in every sense of the word) slaughterhouse work is the dirty, smelly, ugly reality behind our willfully thoughtless wish for cheap, packaged meat. Pachirat is refreshingly non-judgmental about those he works with, all of whom are doing an unpleasant job for little money. He's refreshingly honest about the compromise between hygiene (safety) and line speed (business) that workers and management make all the time. And he offers compassionate insight into how the monotonous, mind-numbing work necessitates an armored humor and self-protectiveness that, along with a fear of deportation for undocumented workers, discourage whistleblowing or conscientious objection. Pachirat refuses either to avoid his and our complicity or to demonize the workers, and artfully places his journey at the center of the narrative without self-aggrandizement or claims to the moral high ground. Like Gail Eisnitz's SLAUGHTERHOUSE, Pachirat captures the psychological horrors faced in the abattoir by literally putting himself on the line to write about what those who through force of circumstance experience hour after hour, day after day. A tour-de-force of reportage and sociological analysis, EVERY TWELVE SECONDS is essential reading for all those who eat meat and all those who campaign to bring the horror this book documents to an end.
~ Martin Rowe, LanternBooks.com

For some of us, upon reading the synopsis of this book I’m sure the question arises, why read it? If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t read it. If you want to remain blissfully unaware of where some of your food comes from, definitely Do. Not. Read. It. It is horrific, and should make you think twice before you go through the drive-thru and absentmindedly get yourself or your kids a burger. It's an excellent, well-written account of the actual slaughterhouse where the author Timothy Pachirat worked undercover. It is not sensationalized, just factual, and the facts show that there is no need to try and sensationalize the truth. This is not happy fiction, but stark and brutal reality and it more than earns the 5 star rating I am giving it.
~ Melissa Harlow

About the Author:

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 Seconds is an important and disturbing work.

Return to Book, CD and Video Review Guide