Misadventures of Slaughterhouses

Fast Food Nation & In The Jungle

Introduction to Slaughterhouse Workers

There are many jobs for slaughterhouse workers. Some people have to knock out the cows, some people have to kill the cows, some have to cut the cows, others have to package the cows. There are many jobs, and people who work in slaughterhouses don't usually last very long, so it's like they are always hiring!

"Knocker, sticker, shackler, romper, First Legger, Knuckle Dropper, Navel Boner, Splitter Top/Bottom Butt, Food Kill Chain - the names of job assignments at a modern slaughterhouse." (Chapter 8, page 172)

The Cattle

The following is how cattle is handled right before going into the slaughterhouse, and also once in the slaughterhouse. If you have a weak stomach, or are a young audience, you may not want to read the following.

"At times the animals are crowded so closely together it looks like a sea of cattle, a mooing, moving mass of brown and white fur that goes on for acres." (Chapter 7, page 150)

"Cattle were herded up wooden ramps to the top floor, where they were struck on the head with a sledgehammer, slaughtered, then dissembled by skilled workers.".....Coming out as sides of beef, cans of beef, or boxes of sausages ready to be loaded in railcars."(Chapter 7, page 152)

"the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one." (Chapter 14)

"Carcasses swing so fast along the rail that you have to keep an eye on them constantly, dodge them, watch your step, or one will slam you and throw you onto the bloody concrete floor." (Chapter 8, page 170)

"Sides of beef suspended from an overhead trolley swing toward a group of men. Each worker has a large knife in one hand and a steel hook in the other. They grab the meat with their hooks and attack it fiercely with their knives." (Chapter 8, page 170)

The Pieces

This is more of what goes on inside the slaughterhouses, after the cows have been dissembled. Again, I advise those with weak stomachs or young audiences to not keep reading.

"It was law that cows of that sort came along with the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss would start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would walk away." (Chapter 5)

  • In, In The Jungle, Upton Sinclair was talking about sick or pregnant cows. The cows that were pregnant would be slaughtered, and the baby cows inside them would also be slaughtered, and even though they weren't supposed to use pregnant cows or the cow's fetuses for meat, they still used them.

"In the end Jurgis saw them go into the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here and there so that they could not be identified." (Chapter 5)

"There would be hams found spoiled, some of them with an odor so bad that a man could hardly bear to be in the room with them." (Chapter 14)

The Injuries

Working in a slaughterhouse is not one of the safest job, in fact, it's not safe at all. No matter how many precautions they try to take. Working in a slaughterhouse is one of the most dangerous jobs.

"In The Jungle (1906) Upton Sinclair described a litany of horrors: severe back and shoulder injuries, lacerations, amputation, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and memorable, a workplace accident in which a man fell into a vat and got turned into lard." (Chapter 7, page 152)

"He saw friends get badly injured on the job, lost the middle finger on his right had while using a saw, got knocked unconscious when a side of beef fell off a hook and struck him in the head." (Chapter 7, page 156)

"Meat packing workers routinely develop back problems, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and "trigger finger" (a syndrome in which a finger becomes frozen in a curled position)" (Chapter 8, page 173)

Bubbly Creek

'"Bubbly Creek" is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the Southern Boundary of the yards; all the drainage of the square mile packing houses empties into it so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide filth stays there forever and a day. "Bubbles of carbonic acid gas will rise to make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across and vanished temporarily".....till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out." (Chapter 9)

Odors in Lexington

"We have three odors," a Lexington resident told a reporter: "burning hair and blood, that greasy smell, and the odor of rotten eggs." Hydrogen sulfide is the gas responsible for the rotten egg smell it rises from slaughterhouse wastewater lagoons." (Chapter 7, page 165)

The Cleaning Process

"Their principal cleaning toll is a high pressure hose that shoots a mixture of water and chlorine heated to about 180 degrees. As the water is sprayed, the plant fills with a thick heavy fog. Visibility drops to as little as five feet. The conveyor belts and machinery are running, workers stand on the belts, spraying them, riding them like moving sidewalks as high as a fifteen feet off the ground. Workers climb ladders with hoses and spray the catwalks, then get under tables and conveyor belts, climbing right into the bloody muck, cleaning out grease, fat, manure, leftover scraps of meat. Glasses and safety goggles fog up. The inside of the plant heats up; temperatures seen exceed 100 degrees. "It's hot, and it's foggy, and you can't see anything," a former sanitation worker said. The crew members can't see or hear each other when the machinery's running. They routinely spray each other with burning hot, chemical laden water." (Chapter 8, page 177)