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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  382 ratings  ·  84 reviews
A powerful and important work of investigative journalism that explores the runaway growth of the American meatpacking industry and its dangerous consequences

On the production line in American packinghouses, there is one cardinal rule: the chain never slows. Every year, the chain conveyors that set the pace of slaughter have continually accelerated to keep up with America’
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Harper
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Gina Rheault Not an answer, but big kudos, and thank you for doing this work. Pope Francis would be proud.

"The Hangman at Home" ran through my head more than once…more
Not an answer, but big kudos, and thank you for doing this work. Pope Francis would be proud.

"The Hangman at Home" ran through my head more than once while I imagined the management side of the story.

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Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Recipe for an unappealing pork product: you take a scoop of Silent Spring, a scoop of The Jungle and a scoop illegal immigration covered in the extra fat brought in to match Spam's original recipe and sprinkled with severely ill blue babies.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review on our blog, and am opting not to do that out of respect for Genoways' journalistic work. Why? Because animal advocates can't help but notice a glaring omission: the entire book contains only a few scant paragraphs about the treatment of animals in the modern agricultural system. Having said that, at least he does not make the naive mistake of suggesting that agribusiness cares more about their units of production than their workers or member ...more
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A thorough examination of a thoroughly depressing subject. The power that a corporation like Hormel has to make deleterious decisions that negatively impact individuals, animals, citizens, rivers, wildlife, and everything in between is shameful. For profit. For Spam.
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not sure that Ted Genoways's The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food was the best book I could have chosen to start winter break with. Probably should have started with something a little lighter. Anyway, this was certainly an informative read. Genoways's book examines multiple "chains" connected to the hog slaughtering industry. There is, of course, the chain of workers at the meatpacking factories, where hogs are literally deconstructed. Then there's the chain inside *that* chai ...more
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
I expected this book would explore the social justice issues around Big Meat, and I was hoping that would include justice for non-human animals. Halfway through, I seemed to have already passed the chapters dealing with inhumane treatment, and it became pretty clear that this author is only appalled by a factory killing 13,000 pigs a day in that it is unsafe for workers and consumers; as long as no one is actually beating or sodomizing the pigs, he seems more-or-less OK with the pigs themselves. ...more
Feb 04, 2015 added it
a really important book. a commendable book. hard to read for the obvious reasons. i picked it up and put it down a few times, and this made it also hard to read because one needs to remember acronyms and the names of the players. Context helps to place them, but a little glossary of the names and people wouldn't hurt.

Pig meat was one of the few meats I liked to eat. Yes, that's now in the past tense. I can't see ham or bacon now without getting a little queasy. Genoways quotes Sinclair's saying
Damon Glassmoyer
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent expose of the real costs - to health, environment, and society - of mass production of pork products. You will rethink your appetite for Spam. The author keeps multiple story lines going, so you may want to keep a notebook handy to track the people and agencies, but it's worth the extra effort.
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is book is, quite frankly, some of the finest journalism I've ever read. I got the audio version of this and I'm glad that I did. Although the information is good and extremely well written, it is quite dense and requires a lot of thought processing to get through. It took me over a month to finish this, which, considering the subject matter, is quite appropriate.

"The Chain" is about the meat industry, in particular, the production of a special meat we're all familiar with: Spam. Author Ted
Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: farming
The Chain looks at the industrial food industry through the lens of Hormel - one of the largest pork producers in the world. Genoways not only looks at the horrific CAFO system for "raising" hogs for meat, but also how companies like Hormel corner the market for themselves through vertical integration (they own ALL aspects of the industry - the hogs, the feed, the slaughterhouses, the food processing plants, etc.). Besides the horrible, yet blessedly short, lives of the hogs, the worst part is h ...more
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: health
Well, if I weren't already a plant-based eater, I'd make sure that I never bought any meat from a factory. I mean, I "knew" that already. But now I know it. And I learned that Hormel with the accent on the end was a corporate move. The original Hormel guy pronounced his name to rhyme with "normal."

That's some nice trivia to toss around at a party while you're eating canapés...until you look down and wonder where the meat on top of the puff pastry came from. Ew.
Wendi Lau
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't think I want to eat SPAM any more, or any Hormel products. Processing 19,000 hogs a day is definitely too many for food safety. Yuck. Good narratives about the people who work in the plants too.
Damian Sowa
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
Meh. The author clearly has a vendetta against Hormel. I was truly hoping to hear more about the environmental & animal welfare issues surrounding the meat industry. Instead his book reads more like a screed about unions and immigration law. Unsatisfying. ...more
John Yunker
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
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a solid coverage of several intertwining strains — the meatpacking world in general, and very much, and specifically, Hormel; labor in that world; cutting of federal regulatory oversight, which led to line speedups and more unsafe work, as well as more unsafe food; illegal immigrant labor to do this cost-cut, unsafe work; and Big Ag to provide a new flood of hogs to meet the ravenous maw of Hormel, even as it worked to get hog farmers to standardize hog size through selective breeding, t ...more
“There’s nothing more political than food” – Anthony Bourdain

In my quixotic journey to learn more about where my food comes from which will surely end with a diet consisting of nothing that casts a shadow, I picked up Ted Genoways’ The Chain. I was previously vaguely aware of Genoways as a liberal journalist who focused on the intersection of farming, immigration, and environment, and I figured The Chain would hold up as The Jungle for the 21st Century that everyone seemed to think it was. And w
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
I thought this book was mostly just going to focus on the truth behind what goes into the meat we eat (e.g. the pink goo in mcnuggets) but it covered so much more. Ted Genoways introduces us to Hormel Foods (best known for creating Spam) and other meat processing plants and farms across the country, while uncovering what seemed to be an endless amount of horrors. Immigrant exploitation, food contamination, animal abuse, crooked industries, pollution, questionable government policies, and a myste ...more
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very page-turning and calm analysis of the largely disgusting world of industrial food. The book covers the network of dangerous labor, immigration, watershed impact, antibiotic overuse, supply chain logistics, and government policies that result in cheap walmart pork chops. I'm sure (sadly) this book won't change my behavior, but it's very illuminating about all the unpleasantness (e.g. aerosoled pig brains causing neurological damage in line workers at the hog "head table" in a processing fact ...more
Christie Martel
Nov 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a very informative, in-depth look at the food producing company Hormel. It deals with animal treatment, meat processing and inspection conditions, the lives of workers, economic impacts for cities/towns which host Hormel plants, etc. It is fascinating to see how the greed of one company can have so many ripple effects on communities. Definitely recommend it to others who want to get some sense of the current societal and economic upheavals happening across the U.S. and what's ...more
Emilio III
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 primaril
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I recommend this book to someone who has a close connection to one of the multiple industries or interests in the story. I picked it up because I thought it would be a book about the food industry and its supply chain as a whole and instead it was more of a deep dive into Hormel and hog farming.

The research, history, politics, and business involved in Hormel's operations and the hog farming was interesting, but I finished the book feeling like it was specific to Hormel and that I couldn't draw
W. Lawson
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I feel a lot of reviews about this novel are exceptionally skewed because people are expecting a novel about the mistreatment of animals, but the crux of this novel is about the corruption of big pork agricultural business. The focus of this novel is how the pork industry has manipulated, corrupted, and solidified its position in big business and our country. It's a horrifying tale of how industries can damage not only their workers (pushing out workers and damaging immigration status), but also ...more
Carole B
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
Genoways looks at particular cases in the meat packing industry, specific workers and Hormel-supplying plants, delving into the workers’ struggles, the corporate responses, and the broader effects of these companies. Perhaps only the subtitle of the book was a lie; Genoways makes no attempt at a universal survey of agriculture today, and the book would be worse if he did. His writing style is smooth, with a placating professional tone occasionally broken by liberal outrage. After also reading Pi ...more
Rachel Bhattacharyya
I grew up in rural Minnesota, 15 -30 miles from some of the locations in The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food. This book hits home. Nevertheless, I was unaware of the intricacies of this disturbing story - even though I witnessed the changes in meat processing from the 1960's, onward. I have long been aware of the increasing community tensions and am dismayed by the growing intolerance from local citizens against ethnically different groups who actually share their same goals. Both ...more
annika burman
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Even though it was highly informative, and I found it interesting, there were certain sections that dragged. Occasionally, there were too many names to follow what was happening. I was frustrated by the ending, which states that these problems are inevitable when you see the industry in-large. I wish he would at least hint at a solution to these issues.
I would recommend looking into the cheap-meat industry to almost anyone, because it's an issue everyone should be aware of, although this book m
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s sad to see how animals and employees are treated because of the greed of the corporate businesses and the inhuman ways companies denied access to benefits.

It’s also disconcerting the racism the communities face because of the low wages. It’s one thing to not want to work for low wages and another to blame immigrants to taking jobs you don’t want.

It definitely makes you think of the products you buy and where it comes from. I can see the popularity with ethical farming and local farm to ta
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a book that everyone should read. It is a maddening, frustrating, and sickening articulation of modern industrial agriculture and animal slaughter. The book summarizes the abusive treatment of workers, the mistreatment of animals, and the environmental degradation by this industry. The Chain is a well researched and well documented summary of an industry that is despicable in every way. While I knew a lot of the content, it is heartbreaking to read as a single volume.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent history of how our pig meat gets to our plate. I'm sure people will be horrified to hear how companies cut corners for the sake of profits and mortified that townships allowed for their drinking water to be polluted in order to continue their local economy going (Sarcasm). There's greed, labor fights, migration issues, violence, racism, political drama. A fantastic read but definitely not recommended for the squeamish.
Steve Nolan
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is harrowing. Not only for the descriptions of "thumping" - which just being reminded of right now is basically ruining my shit - but for chronicling of the beginning of the anti-immigration movement in America. This shit didn't start in 2015, but a decade earlier.

I sometimes lost the thread on exactly *when* certain things were happening - the timelines could've been mentioned more often.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Sickened, maddened, nauseated every other page. The broad storyline I already knew but I gained new insight about pork processing workers (mainly immigrants, mostly undocumented), factory farming (specifically Hormel Foods), and ugg the politics. Unfortunately, book hardly touched on the plight of main topic itself—hogs. It was worth the read, only wish I felt that Genoways would never eat pork again, but he’s probably having Spam for dinner.
John Morse
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Very depressing to read how large corporations like Hormel and Smithfield devastate the environment and sell toxic pork and get away with it. All this while affected people in the local communities scapegoat hardworking Hispanic workers who are simply trying to improve the lives of their families and who don't enjoy the same rights as their white coworkers for fear of being fired.
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Ted Genoways is an acclaimed journalist and author of The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food. A contributing editor at Mother Jones, the New Republic, and Pacific Standard, he is the winner of a National Press Club Award and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, and is a two-time James Beard Foundation Award finalist. He has received fellowships from the NEA and the Gu ...more

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