The Chain picks up where The Jungle leaves off


The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, by Ted Genoways, is an important work of reporting. Based on years of interviews and tireless research, the book spans the length of our food system, focused largely on Hormel Foods, the makers of Spam. It covers the tragically interconnected plight of the workers and of the animals.

Genoways cites The Jungle throughout this book, and for good reason. We’d certainly like to believe The Jungle brought attention to issues that have since been solved.

But these problems have not been solved. If anything they are worse.

Worse because there are so more many animals being killed today, animals who now never set foot on ground or see the light of day. And the workers are treated as badly now as they were then, losing fingers, becoming horribly diseased. Worse because so many of these workers, as undocumented workers, have so few rights, and as a result, are powerless to speak up.

Worse because we should know better now. We have laws now that are intended to protect humans and, to limited extent, the animals. Laws that are overlooked or ignored because the companies are firmly in charge of their own regulations. And the small towns that could pressure these companies to act like better citizens are terrified daily of watching the companies move to some other jobs-starved region.

In reading this book you learn:

  • Slaughterhouses keep accelerating  the lines of production, to speeds that are frighteningly unsustainable — that is, if you want to ensure food safety and worker safety. One plant slaughters 10,000 hogs a day, a number once seemed impossible.
  • But do the workers get bonuses for this breakneck production? Of course not. They get sick. And the stories of human suffering in this book makes me wonder how the company’s executives sleep at night. Our desire for cheap meat has very real human costs.
  • Worse, the unions that once protected these workers have been largely made irrelevant. The companies prey on undocumented workers to keep wages low.
  • The water supplies around these plants are becoming so polluted that people now need to drink bottled water. There was once a time you’d travel to a third-world country and be wary of drinking the water. Now, we’ve created this experience across growing regions of the United States.
  • The numerous antibiotics and hormones injected into the animals are most certainly entering our bodies.

Perhaps slaughterhouses should be located in the hearts of major cities where we could all watch the animals being herded up the ramps with electric prods, instead of located in small towns that politicians will sell their souls to keep what few jobs they have left from going away. And where, now, so many states have enacted laws to prevent journalists or activists from photographing the animals or the workers.

It’s not hard to feel helpless and deeply upset reading this book. Because the corruption at the top levels of state and federal governments is so  entrenched. This, by the way, is not a Democratic or Republic problem — neither party particularly cares for animals or the people who work on the lines.

But the fact is, there is one way to change the world.

Stop eating animals.

Genoways does not prescribe solutions in his book, but on his website he does suggest eating less meat.

And I will add that as someone who doesn’t eat meat, the meat substitutes available these days are amazing. So are the fake cheeses. And these products don’t contain cholesterol or antibiotics. And they aren’t tainted with the horror that surrounds the meat industry.

Just as demand created the meat industry, demand for fake meat will one day create an entirely new industry, one that is far better for people, animals, and this planet.

The Jungle isn’t over. It’s still happening.

The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food

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