An in-depth examination by an undercover academic about the slaughtering of cattle for food.
Pachirat (Politics/New School Univ.) settled in Omaha in 2004 to conduct participant-observation research at a large slaughterhouse processing 2,500 cattle per day. He obtained employment after only the most cursory of interviews, partly because he looked the part (he is half Thai and therefore brown skinned) and partly because the turnover at slaughterhouses often reaches 100 percent annually. The author writes that he was determined to publish an interesting narrative, unlike most books by academics, often just expansions of their dissertations. Mostly, he succeeds, despite his interjections of theory derived from scholars both well known and obscure. The primary theory revolves around how societies keep unpleasant institutions as invisible as possible from the consuming public. Pachirat's firsthand descriptions of how the cattle are killed and butchered are graphic and stomach turning. He says the book is not intended primarily to promote animal rights or turn meat eaters into vegetarians, but his narrative may encourage those results among some readers. An appendix titled "Division of Labor on the Kill Floor" lists 121 steps involved from the time the cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse until they have been dismembered and the animal products packaged for shipping. Another appendix lists a few dozen "Cattle Body Parts and Their Uses," including the blood, used as a "sausage ingredient, sticking agent for insecticides, and blood meal for livestock and pet food." Throughout the process, Pachirat worried that he would be outed within the plant; instead, his advanced education and eloquence worked to his advantage as he was promoted to quality-control examiner. In that position, he provides alarming insights about evading the meat inspectors meant to enforce sanitation.
A fascinating, gut-wrenching study--but absolutely not for the weak of stomach.