Review of The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food by Ted Genoways
Ted Genoways’ book The Chain is another addition to a long list of narratives that have detailed the industrialization of food. In this case, the subject concerns the industrialization of pork.
The same problems highlighted here are also present in other livestock food: beef, turkey, chicken, and fish. In an ever-growing demand for meat, locally sourced food has been driven out by factory farms. The results are often unsafe food, animal abuse, and environmental damage.
The author focuses primarily on a Hormel owned and operated plant in Freemont, Nebraska. The plant is one of only two in the world that produces Spam, a product consisting mostly of fat and pork trimmings. While introducing the history of Spam, the author touches on a wide array of related topics: worker’s safety, animal safety, immigration, politics, land erosion, and the environmental impact of slaughtering up to 20,000 pigs a day in a single plant.
As much as I would like to give up meat after reading a book like this, I find it a challenge. I live a busy life that requires that I often have to eat on the run. I need something quick, nourishing, and portable. A ham and cheese sandwich meets that criteria. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with what has gone into the production of that slice of ham. The government has a role to play in assuring consumers that the food they eat is safe.
The long term solution I envision is cell-based meat production. In a few years, it will be possible to grow meat in large industrial labs. There are a host of issues that will need to be solved, such as what happens to all the livestock once we no longer need them? Another solution involves plant-based foods.
In the interim, consumers can encourage change with their pocketbooks. We should demand that our meat come from a safe workplace, with well-treated livestock, and with minimal environmental damage. Choose local over factory farms. Everyone’s health depends on it.