Dee Arr's Reviews > Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers' Rights at the World's Largest Slaughterhouse

Hog Wild by Lynn Waltz
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history, reference

More than once during “Hog Wild,” I questioned that the events I was reading about could happen a mere 20-25 years ago. The mixture of race and labor violations at one facility appeared mind-boggling. The disregard for the environment and welfare of a state’s inhabitants (North Carolina), at first glance, also was difficult to believe. Fortunately, the book is backed up with a ton of facts and references.

Author Lynn Waltz waded through thousands of pages of documents to present the story of Smithfield Foods and the efforts to unionize and protect their workers (one NLRB document, detailing hundreds of charges against Smithfield Packing in the late 1990s, was almost 8,000 pages long). Other court documents were also used to provide background for the book, and numerous people were interviewed. Many newspaper articles are also listed, as well as numerous books about food and the meatpacking industry. In short, Ms. Waltz has more than done her homework.

In 1993, Smithfield Foods opened a massive meatpacking operation in North Carolina. The book documents the violations of workers’ rights and the efforts of management to cover up the illegal aspects of how they were doing business. The efforts to unionize the plant (as well as Smithfield’s subsequent reactions) are humanized, as we are allowed access into the lives of those who were affected. The book moves with the pace of a well-written novel, and the people involved are defined with all their humanistic qualities.

If I had anything negative to say, it would involve the author’s attempt to unnecessarily inject opinions on racism. For instance, stating that one of the most difficult jobs was handled by “…the largest, strongest me, almost always black…” might indicate racism except for the lead sentence of the chapter which tells us that the majority of the workers were black. There are plenty of potential racist episodes between Smithfield management and employees without these asides. Thankfully, they are not littered throughout the book, but one can only wish that the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s words would have been consistently heeded: “This is not an issue about black and white. It is about right and wrong.”

Despite these small hiccups, Ms. Waltz has put together an incredible story, one that everyone should be interested in reading. The mass of research required to put together a book of this importance cannot be denied. Giving voice to those folks who stood up for what they thought was right is a bravery of its own. Five stars.

My thanks to NetGalley and The University of Iowa Press for an advance reading copy of this book.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 21, 2018 – Shelved
April 21, 2018 – Shelved as: history
April 21, 2018 – Shelved as: reference

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