Life in the Time of the Coronavirus

I Work In A Meat Processing Plant. Ordering Us to Stay Open Puts Profit Over Lives.

A worker at a Tyson beef plant says the president’s executive order is putting her in danger

Justine van der Leun
Published in
7 min readApr 30, 2020


Photo illustration, sources: Marcelo Silva/Getty Images, 4x-Image/Getty Images

Life in the Time of the Coronavirus is a GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

This anonymous thirtysomething works at a Tyson Foods beef plant in Amarillo, Texas. On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order requiring slaughterhouses to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, reversing the closures of many of these plants. Across the country, at least 5,000 meat processing workers have tested positive for the virus, and 20 have died.

Most people don’t understand where their meat comes from. They just pluck it off a grocery-store shelf and cook it up. They don’t see us workers, what we go through to get it to them. And they don’t realize what it means when President Trump compels us to go back into the slaughterhouses in the middle of an outbreak. He says we’re part of critical infrastructure, that we’re essential workers. Well, I don’t feel critical. I don’t feel essential. I feel sacrificial.

To work in a slaughterhouse you have to be physically and mentally strong. If you’re not it’s going to tear you apart. I grew up on a Texas farm and working hard has never bothered me. When you start, they teach you how to stretch out your hands, how to avoid getting stabbed by the equipment, how to work a blade. I’m on the processing side, which is dangerous; the kill floor is even more brutal. That’s where the cattle file in, trucked in from the back entrance so you never see them. When they arrive, they’re shocked between the eyes with a stun gun and hung alive upside down. Their throats are cut, and they bleed out. It’s kept hot in there — up to 100 degrees in the summer — so the blood doesn’t congeal. The carcasses are stripped of their hide and slit down the center. Every organ is removed. What isn’t designated for human consumption — tripe, kidney — is turned into dog food. There’s not one part of the cow that isn’t sold. The carcass is placed in a gigantic…