Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Expelling the slaughtering of animals from urban centers

This post is in many ways a response and inspired by this post at Environmental Critique by Hugh Bartling. So, go read that first. Several provisos: (1) Bartling focuses on chickens, which is not at all my focus. (2) Bartling also is more concerned about policy issues, which will not be the focus of this post. (3) Clearly I think the idea of human chicken rearing as, at best, problematic. And in most cases clearly unethical. I probably won't get too much into that, because everyone knows where I stand on that. (4) Bartling is focused on animal rearing, whereas I will mostly be addressing animal slaughtering. Clearly one does have to entail the other, but there is a strong relationship between the two. On to the main part of the post.

Modern urbanism has, again and again, replicated a model of pushing animal slaughtering outside of the urban core. Some of you may find the history unnecessary, in which case you can skip to the bottom. To give a few examples:

New Amsterdam/New York City 1641-1865: According to the historian James Thompson, in 1641 "[t]he slaughterhouses and cattle pens in New Amsterdam were almost as conspicuous on the landscape as windmills in Holland. They straddled the ditch on the north side of the palisade, later Wall Street, the effluvia flowing down this streamlet [called Bloody Run] through the Water Poort or Water Gate into the East River. " [1] As Jimmy Skaggs reports, "[a]fter 1656, Manhattan officials required permits of anyone who wanted to slaughter or butcher animals on the island. Ten years later they ordered the the killing grounds out of the community, beyond the stockade fence along Wall Street, and erected a public facility on present Pearl Street, between Wall and Pine. All slaughtering, including that for private consumption, was restricted to the public house[.]" [2] He later concludes, "By the 1830s, New York City had banished slaughterhouses and their attendant meatpacking plants to beyond Forty-second Street, and by the time of the of the Civil War, to Eightieth Street and north. In time, hounded buisnessmen abandoned eastern cities entirely, especially after improved water and rail transportation became available, and the industry slowly shifted westward as the frontier receded before it."[3]

Paris 1806-1867: Émile Littré gave the definition of abattoir in his first edition of the Dictionary of the French Language, and maintained through all subsequent editions: "Place set aside for the slaughter of animals such as bullocks, calves, sheep, etc. that are used for human consumption. Abattoirs are located outside the surrounding walls of towns." [4] This definition seems odd at first glance, after all why would abattoir have, as part of its definition, its location as outside the walls of towns?
Well, Napoleon I engaged in a national regulation of slaughterhouses, and in 1807 ordered the building of five public slaughterhouses, all located outside the city walls, in Paris. The slaughterers were not allowed to kill animals anywhere else.[5] "In 1810 Napoleon issued a second degree, requiring that public slaughterhouses be built in every town in France, and--it was specified--outside the city limits."
It is also around this time we gain the word abattoir, appearing for the first time in 1806. A strange word, it comes abattre, which means to fell or bring down. It was a term mostly used in forestry, as in bringing down a tree. The abattoir was meant clearly as a euphemism, meant to replace the tuerie and the boucherie for the name of Napoleon's new public slaughterhouses.[6]
George Eugene Haussmann, as part of his reforms of Paris, also reformed Napoleon's slaughterhouses. In this case, from 1863-1867, Haussmann had built the Central Slaughterhouse of La Villette. It was a singular slaughterhouse, massive is scope and cost, that was the first one of its kind intended to service the desires of a city of millions for animal flesh.

Chicago Unfinished and Fragmented: Chicago is a different phenomenon in many ways than what we have discussed in New York and in Paris. Chicago was at the center all of sorts of changes--the raise of trains, the invention of refrigerator cars, monocultural agriculture, disciplinary techniques of worker management, new accounting methods, barbed wire, vertical monopolies, feedlots and early genetic manipulations of animals, new advertising techniques, etc.--that allowed it to exist primarily as a place to slaughter animals. I am going to skip a lot of that, and there are many excellent books on the topic (though, if you haven't read William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis, you are really denying yourself), but I want to fastforward just a little bit. Okay, nevermind. I didn't bring the right books with me for this next section, and I won't get to them again until after the holidays. If there is interest, I will be more specific. But basically, slaughtering did not remain for long in Chicago's urban core. The Union Stockyards opened in 1865, and by sometime around the turn of the century, the slaughtering had already moved out of Chicago proper.

Why?: Vialles make the argument that the industrialization of slaughter cemented the desire for slaughter to exist in a "no-place." As she explains: "To sum up: from this point on, slaughtering was required to be industrial, that is to say large scale and anonymous; it must be non-violent (ideally: painless); and it must be invisible (ideally: non-existent). It must be as if it were not." [7] She continues: "We see now why the disjunctions are necessary: urbanisation and the consumption of large quantities of meat lead directly to the creation of abattoirs as places set apart, where the inevitable occurs. All these disjunctions invite and combine with one another to keep the mass killing of animals at a reasonable distance. [...] It is very much as if the initial separation between killing and meat had triggered a process of repeated fissions forming a kind of spiral of avoidance of a reality and a meaning that are too raw, the centre of the spiral and the force behind it being the very thing that it is trying to avoid--forever unsuccessfully, and for good reason."[8]
I would like to continue this thought and link it back up with Bartling's original post. The problem of farm animals is that they exist in a weird sort of middle ground for the urban dweller. They are neither wildlife, ie animals that are not directly owned and maintained by particular humans, and they are not pets, ie animals that are owned and maintained by paritcular humans for no specific purpose. Indeed, the term farm animal itself shows the confusion, these are animals whose definition includes the place they are suppose to be. The farm animal reasserts the unease, unravels our disjunctions, and returns us to the scene of the crime. Just as Bartling points out that: "In numerous cases, critics are concerned about such things as the pollution of the water supply, the spread of avian flu, and concerns for the animals’ safety. This line of argument is, of course, ironic, since these are similar reasons cited by proponents of urban chicken-keeping." The idea of urban farm animal raising both incites dread on those who want the disjunction maintained by keeping all of this at a distance, while at the same time those who want to raise chickens hope that in so doing, they will be able to overcome the disjunction.

[1] Thompson, A History of Livestock Raising, p. 39. As originally cited in Jimmy Skaggs, Prime Cut, p. 34.
[2] Skaggs, p. 34.
[3] Skaggs, p. 36.
[4] As cited and discussed in Noelie Vialles' excellent Animal to Edible. See p. 15.
[5] This, and the immediate following discussion is drawn from Siegfried Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command, pp. 209-213. It is a crime this book is out of print.
[6] Vialles discusses the euphemistic nature of abattoir, pp.22-28.
[7] Vialles p. 22.
[8] Vialles, pp. 31-32.