Friday, March 9, 2012
The Compartmentalization of Violence
Over at BoingBoing, there is a very thought-provoking interview with Timothy Pachirat, who has written a book after going "undercover" at a slaughterhouse in Nebraska entitled Every Twelve Seconds. Rather than the usual expose, his writing addresses how the violence inherent in killing animals for our food on an industrial level is compartmentalized and shielded from society. Although this work is more related to food philosophy than food science, I think it's important enough an issue to think about that I'm blogging about it here.
Pachirat discusses how the actual work of killing cattle at slaughterhouses is broken down into specific tasks, and how the individuals that do each task are separated from each other and the outside world, physically and mentally, using walls, ideology, and language. This separates humans from the violence that is occurring, allowing consumers and even slaughterhouse employees to effectively ignore or believe that they are not responsible for the act of killing. This happens within the slaughterhouse, and, on a larger scale, outside the slaughterhouse where society in general is separated from the nasty work, done mostly by immigrants behind closed doors that few, if any of us, get a glimpse behind.
The issues discussed in this interview and in Pachirat's book raise quite a few uncomfortable questions about industrial meat production. Who is responsible? Is the act of placing responsibility another way to compartmentalize violence perpetrated by an entire society? How does this relate to other acts of violence that occur behind closed doors in order for us to remain "civilized," like torture, inprisonment, and execution? As a consumer of meat myself, I think that it is the responsibility of humans to ask questions about where their food comes from. We must make educated, informed, and well-thought-out decisions about what is okay to eat, and by extension what processes in which we are willing to be complicit.
(image via BoingBoing)