Former Gourmet contributing editor Estabrook (Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, 2011) presents a journalistic exposé of the pork industry with the same skill demonstrated in his exploration of the tomato industry.
The saga is difficult to resist after the opening sentence: "A pork chop nearly got me thrown in jail." The threat originated from an irritated judge in a small-town Illinois courtroom, where the locals had filed a lawsuit against a gigantic pork producer running an industrial hog facility causing such a stench and other unpleasantness that their rural way of life had been diminished beyond redemption. Estabrook escaped jail time, but the judge expelled him from the courtroom due to a momentary exchange between the journalist and a plaintiff's attorney. Numerous important books have appeared in the past decade about the evils of industrial slaughterhouses. In that sense, Estabrook's book might seem like a retread, but it stands out because of its narrow rather than broad scope. He examines pork production only; no beef, chicken or sheep enter the narrative. The author is clearly appalled by the conditions he documents in a variety of large-scale facilities, but he presents the evidence with a subtle touch and rightfully allows the villains an opportunity to explain their practices. Heroes emerge in almost every chapter—e.g., hog producers who care about humane treatment, lawyers who represent rural residents on quality-of-life issues, government inspectors of slaughterhouses who try to enforce the law only to be castigated by their bosses, who are often in cahoots with corporate titans. A journey to Denmark showed Estabrook how sanitary, humane practices can produce excellent pork. Unfortunately, though, as in other realms, he discovered that many Americans don't see the value of learning from other nations.
A thoroughly researched, deftly written piece of investigative journalism. Estabrook and his partner still eat bacon, but they are careful about the source of the pork.