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Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale Agrarian Studies Series) Hardcover – November 18, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Pachirat’s extraordinary narrative tells us about much more than abused animals and degraded workers. It opens our eyes to the kind of society in which we live."—Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation
(Peter Singer 2011-07-07)

“A lucid writer, Pachirat excels in explaining how a slaughterhouse works.”—Ted Conover, The Nation
(Ted Conover The Nation)

“The book is superbly written, especially given the grimness of the subject.”—Mark Bittman, The New York Times, Opinionator column
(Mark Bittman The New York Times)

"A fascinating, gut-wrenching study—but absolutely not for the weak of stomach."—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

"A truly stunning achievement.  Every Twelve Seconds takes us into the slaughterhouse and asks: Why do we work so hard to conceal the daily routine of industrialized killing?  The result is a masterpiece that is as sophisticated as it is hard to put down."—Steve Striffler, author of Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food
(Steve Striffler 2011-06-13)

"By far the most thorough and immersive accounting of slaughterhouse operations in contemporary agribusiness."—Erik Marcus, author of Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money
(Erik Marcus 2011-06-28)

"Pachirat’s prose and tone are readable, horrific, and compelling.  The documentary spell it casts recalls the steady, unflinching eye of Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. Astonishing."—John Bowe, author of Nobodies: Slave Labor in Modern America and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy
(John Bowe 2011-06-13)

"Timothy Pachirat's courageous study of kill floor work exposes the fiction of "humane" slaughter.  This book is required reading for people who care about animals and for those interested in how distance and concealment operate in our society."—Gene Baur, President of Farm Sanctuary and author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food
(Gene Baur 2011-06-14)

"…a detailed and brilliantly executed ethnography of an industrialized slaughterhouse in Omaha…its clear, jargon-free prose will make it accessible to both graduate and undergraduate students across disciplines."—Clarissa Rile Hayward, author of De-facing Power
(Clarissa Rile Hayward 2011-05-23)

“A profoundly sobering exploration of the interplay between the imperatives of the modern meatpacking industry and the dehumanizing slaughter of cattle.”—Ian Shapiro, author of The Real World of Democratic Theory
(Ian Shapiro 2011-06-13)

“[I]t would take an exceptionally visceral, in-depth account to make a meaningful contribution to the literature of animals suffering for our nourishment. That’s exactly what Timothy Pachirat provides in Every Twelve Seconds.”—Tom Bartlett, Chronicle of Higher Education
(Chronicle of Higher Education)

“This is a masterful expose, written in crystalline prose. In tying the cruelty and dehumanization of industrialized slaughter to the politics of sight, the book adds to a growing canon of recent work . . . by extending people's understanding of and exacerbating human repugnance to one of the great moral failings of current times. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

“This book is important. Very important. [. . .]  buy it, read it, and share it with anyone who thinks they’re at peace with eating animals. After all, what Pachirat shows without telling, is that every time we eat animals we promote suffering that, should we confront it directly, we’d deem entirely unacceptable."—James McWilliams, Eating Plants blog
(James McWilliams Eating Plants)

“A firsthand account of various kinds of slaughterhouse work [in which] Timothy Pachirat did it all. . . . We can count ourselves lucky that Every Twelve Seconds is a very good book if not a flawless one. . . . It forces upon us an unacademic yet profound question: How can something be right, if it feels so horribly wrong?”—B. R. Myers, The Atlantic
(B.R. Myers The Atlantic)

The Jungle for the 21st century.”—Portland Press Herald 
(Portland Press Herald)

About the Author

Timothy Pachirat is assistant professor, Department of Politics, The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Agrarian Studies Series
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300152671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300152678
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By vegantrav on February 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Every Twelve Seconds will be of interest to anyone concerned about food safety, the exploitation of workers in modern industrialized society, and the abuse and mistreatment of animals.

Every Twelve Seconds is a first-hand account of the gruesome operations of an Omaha slaughterhouse. The author, Timothy Pachirat, is a professor in the Department of Politics at The New School University, and he obtained an entry level position at the slaughterhouse in order to see and document exactly how cattle are killed and processed. He worked in several different areas and was able to see the entire scope of the operation in the five and a half months that he worked at the abattoir.

As a vegan, I am predisposed to be sympathetic to Pachirat's project, but were I someone who eats meat, I have no doubt that I would still be horrified by what is revealed in the pages of Every Twelve Seconds.

First, if you eat meat, you should definitely cook it at as a high a temperature as possible to kill the bacteria that are present. There is no question that most of the meat that is eaten is tainted with fecal matter and other contaminants, which explains why we often see outbreaks of E. coli-based food poisoning.

Additionally, your meat comes at a high cost to the workers who produce it. As the title of the book indicates, the slaughterhouse where Pachirat works kills a cow every twelve seconds. Speed, rather than quality, is the primary driving force in the slaughterhouse: the longer it takes to process a cow, the more hours that the company must pay the workers, and the more hours that the workers work, the less profit the company makes.

With speed being of primary importance, USDA inspectors are viewed as the enemy.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Matt Mitterko on February 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Every Twelve Seconds is divided up into two discrete pieces of non-fiction. It starts with a theoretical outline, in the first three chapters, where Pachirat sets out to detail how a cow becomes an industrialized food product, and how this is possible. The politics of sight at a large-scale slaughterhouse are evident in Pachirat's account, as he highlights the many ways in which such a facility maintains its operations by virtue of obscuring the costs and consequences from consumers and workers. He provides a detailed description of the disassembly line and the requirements of each unique but narrow job on the line. This account is supported by detailed maps showing the facility's workflow through all 121 jobs.

Pachirat is careful to describe the industrialized processessing of the slaughterhouse in morally-neutral terms, as he lays out how a cow is processed. The raw details, however, overcome this by providing a stark, sad visual of the nature of the facility. This section is punctuated with descriptions of the phenomenological details of disassembling a cow, and this is best appreciated when he presents us with workers' instinctual reactions to their part in the processing.

The remainder of the book is spent investigating this narrative first-hand, where Pachirat recounts his time as a slaughterhouse worker over the course of a number of months. This more anecdotal account provides contextual support to the thesis Pachirat advances in the first section. His experience as a worker in various positions within the institution gives you a sense of just how compartmentalized slaughterhouse processing is, and how difficult it is to appreciate the scope of what's being accomplished there, given the focus required for each individual position.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Matt Glassman on March 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books I've read in years. Not best dissertations. Not best academic books. Just best books. Period.

Every Twelve Seconds is about industrial slaughterhouses and what the author calls the "politics of sight." The title refers to how often a cow is slaughtered in the factory the author worked, about 2500 over the course of a day. As he reminds us in the introduction, however, it is not a book about animal rights. It is about violence and society. In his words, it provides "a firsthand, contemporary account of industrialized slaughter, and does so to provoke reflection on how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in modern society." But I think that sells the book short. It's part The Jungle. It's part Fast Food Nation. It's part Dominion. It's part a how-to guide for ethnographic research. And it's part a golden roadmap for how to write relevant and engaging contemporary political theory.

But mostly, it's a brilliant narrative that recounts not only the industrial process of turning cattle into packaged meat and the political and social structures of the world in which that occurs, but also what it feels like to be a human cog within that world. A world where men must necessarily come face-to-face with endless violence, at all times. And how, in response, that world must be designed.
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