De-Sensitivity Training

Purchasing factory farmed meat products supports the violence perpetrated on animals. Does it also support the violence perpetrated on other human beings?

Jane and I were speculating about this recently: Does working in a slaughterhouse somehow alter your perception of violence? Does it inure you to violence, leaving you indifferent to acts of violence being perpetrated on other persons? Or might it serve as an outlet for a fraction of slaughterhouse employees... preventing some from turning around and slaughtering humans?

Intuitively, I would think that the more violence you perpetrate, the more desensitized you become to it, the easier it is to commit or ignore acts of violence.

It seems like we're not the only ones pondering this. On April 3rd the Freakonomics Blog covered this very topic. They reference two studies, one of which shows a link to the psychological damage suffered by slaughterhouse workers; the other links the violent work at the slaughterhouse to increased crime rates in the surrounding communities. Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz, also talks in brief about the link between slaughterhouse violence and domestic violence.

If this subject is new to you, you might want to check out our post Earthlings -- A Discourse on Compassion. You'll find a link to the Earthlings DVD (2003) narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Although it doesn't directly touch on the aspect of the nature of the slaughterhouse as it pertains to the human experience, it does provide graphic illustration of what humans do to these animals. This video also touches on a wide variety of the other abuses of animals by man and is very compelling. I really can't recommend it highly enough. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It will change you.

Also, our post Another Reason Not To Eat Meat has the undercover Humane Society video clip of employees at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company abusing downed cattle while trying to get them into the slaughterhouse. Again, there is no discussion as to the correlation between slaughterhouses and human violence. But it too provides graphic footage of just how horribly these animals are treated.

I'll end with this thought:

"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."

—Pythagoras (500 BC)


  1. has a great podcast on this very thing. one episode was about someone who used to work in a chicken slaughtering facility. the name and number escapes me, but it’s a great podcast in general and you should subscribe.

    i really do think there’s a direct link.

    we’ve known for years that children who torture and kill pets and other animals often grow up to do the same to humans. it’s only logical to assume that adults who are forced to torture and kill animals for 40+ hours each week year after year are going to do the same to humans, as well.

    it’s horrible and shameful.

  2. The always though-invoking “Vegans of Color” blog ( was discussing something similar recently. There has been some interesting parallels drawn between our treatment of animals and our treatment of minorities. If you don’t already do so, I would suggest subscribing to their RSS feed.

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    Yes, I believe there is a link…. but I don’t necessarily agree with the correlation of children who abuse animals to slaughterhouse employees. Children are still developing so it makes sense that they would outgrow or continue to grow their behaviors. Whereas adults most likely have their moral compass already developed. I believe that working in a slaughterhouse will have deleterious effects if they are already inclined to violence (whereas children will be influenced by what they see). Of course, I have no psychiatric training whatsoever, so I could be completely off base here.

    Sat — Thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t run across their blog before and I’ll be sure to check back.

  4. Michael Pollan addresses this in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. He notes how awful the factory-slaughterhouse methods are for the psychology of the humans who work there – and discusses how difficult the USDA makes it to construct something that is more humane both for the humans and the animals.

    Despite the fact that his book is geared toward omnivores, it’s probably the book that moved me most toward veganism.

  5. Hi Nicole,
    I’ve been meaning to read that book, but I still haven’t gotten to the China Study. (Awaiting me as I write this – thru Inter Library Loan).
    It’s interesting that you comment this book moved you most toward veganism. We’ve found that over the last 10 months, it’s been the literature on animal abuse that has had the most profound influence on us. Jane is always saying how she doesn’t think she’d ever be able to get past what she knows now and eat a hamburger.

  6. In our state it is a crime to abuse an animal or kill a domestic animal. But it is perfectly legal to do that to a cow, pig or goat. I cannot understand why people buy this crap about some animals are for food and some are for pets. Why do Americans gross out thinking of eating a horse but chomp down on cows? It is almost a visceral response if I challenge ominovores on eating meat. They dont want to know where it came from and dont care.

  7. Hi Autumn,

    Agreed, that’s what our petition is all about. We’re hopeful that someone like Oprah, who has mass appeal, can enlighten people. She’s got an audience who’s willing to listen… But the question is, does she want to know?

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