Animal-rights lawyer Wise fashions (Though the Heavens May Fall: The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery, 2006, etc.) an angry, oddly focused denunciation of industrial pig farming in North Carolina.
Seeking to expose the disgusting practices of the largest abattoir in the world, the Tar Heel, N.C., factory operated by Smithfield Foods, the author first sifts through the strata of injustice previously enacted on the same site—namely, the genocide of Native Americans and black slavery. In the early chapters, Wise establishes that the white settlers believed they had a God-given right to wrest the wilderness of the New World from the “Anti-Christ in the forest,” the Native Americans. The early settlers also decimated the tribes with European diseases, and visited their “Genesis disaster” on blacks, specifically at the Walnut Grove slave plantation, which was owned by the Robeson family and subsequently parceled to become Tar Heel town and the slaughterhouse complex. Gradually, Wise arrives at his subject—how the granting of human “dominion” over all God’s creatures has allowed us to abdicate, without impunity, all responsibility and respect toward animals. Though he educated himself by visiting the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, the author was not allowed inside the Smithfield factory; his chronicle of Tar Heel’s appalling practices is based on interviews with workers. In lieu of firsthand reporting, he imagines the life of “Wilbur,” following the process from piglet to bacon. Ultimately, Wise returns to a discussion of the church—both Catholic and Southern Baptist—and its changing attitude toward the troubling biblical license of “dominion.”
The author’s passion for animal rights is unquestionably commendable, but his method of displaying the fallacies of “religious certainties” is dubious.