The Chain

Ted Genoways / Harper / 320 pages

According to Hormel Foods, the producers of SPAM, 3.1 cans of the preserved pork product are consumed every second in the United States. If everyone read Ted Genoways’ The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, it is possible that this number would plummet. The book creates an appalling picture of the pork industry’s exploitation of workers, animals, and the environment—Genoways illustrates these points with an in-depth look at Hormel Foods (focusing in particular, on its production of SPAM) and at Quality Pork Processors.

The book critically evaluates how the pork industry (and our food system generally) is monopolized by a few giant companies, all of which have the same narrow agenda—to boost production whatever the cost. This agenda, according to the book, is why workers feel treated like “trash” and animals are mere cogs within a machine. For instance, producers pushed (and continue to push) for faster slaughter line speeds in order to generate more products faster. According to Genoways, a Hormel plant processes over 1,300 animals an hour—a speed that is dangerous for workers and creates an environment where some pigs may not be quickly killed, instead ending up mutilated and boiled alive.

The Chain is a fascinating read for anyone interested in connecting the dots between animal welfare, worker safety, and the environment. If there is a knock against the book, it is that it could have gone deeper on the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture. It also does not give a solution to the problem—which, simply stated, would be to eliminate factory farming altogether.

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