We condemn the war and support Ukraine in its struggle for democratic values.
We also encourage you to join the #StandWithUkraine movement by making a donation at this link
Slaughterhouse Blues

Donald Stull and Michael Broadway for several years investigated the growth of meat production in North America. They traced the consequences of the industrialized meat production system and its influence on local community. The great deal of the book is dedicated to the meatpacking sector. Donald D. Stull is a professor at the University of Kansas. He devoted many years of his life to researches throughout the United States. He is the author of more than 40 scholarly articles, many informative essays and 2 books. His work gave material for the three documentaries that were popular all over the country. Beginning from the 1988 to 1990 he conducted a research with six scientists in Ford Foundation Study of changing ethnic relations in Garden City, Kansas. That research inspired him to write a book on meat industry and transforming communities together with professor of Northern Michigan University's geography department Michael J. Broadway. In this book, special attention is paid to changing poultry, pork and beef production systems. The authors emphasized the impact of meat industry on rural culture. This book is a source of valuable information about changes in the nation’s food system. Slaughterhouse Blues covers the problems of anthropology, sociology and cultural anthropology.

The first chapter depicts agricultural industrialization and three agricultural revolutions. The next three chapters are dedicated to the major branches of meat industry such as beef, poultry and pork. The authors use catchy headings for the chapters to capture reader’s attention and provoke associations. For example, chapter about beef is called From Roundups to Restructuring. This heading contains ironical allusion on the ‘herding’ nature of reorganization in the beef production industry. Other headings like Chicken little, chicken big and Hog heaven show production of poultry and pork. The chapter under the name Is Meat Murderer? touches the problem of animal rights and animal welfare. The authors contrast technological progress and labor class. However, there has been the rapid growth in technological sphere and meat industry was supplied by specially designed equipment; the problems of working class that were topical for dozens of years remained the same. Every heading of the chapter gives an insight for the reader about the main topic of the chapter. For example, even without reading the part The Human Price of Our Meat, we can suppose that this chapter will tell us about people who work in the meat industry and challenges they are facing every day. This part shows poor working conditions of the workers and the damaging influence of meat plants on the surrounding areas. The chapter Not In My Backyard: Community Opposition to the Meat and Poultry Industry depicts struggles of local residents against the usage of concentrated animal feeding operations (dubbed CAFOs) that is used to raise pigs, chickens and beef cattle. Those chemicals not only cause great damage to the people’s health but also influence the environment. Pollution from the process of producing meat contaminates air in the inhabited areas and makes lives of residents unbearable.

The author of the book review on Slaughterhouse Blues, Roger Horowitz, states that, “the volume is published in the series Case Studies on Contemporary Social Issues, and it combines ethnographic accounts with contextual historical narrative” (Stull 2012:546). Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry industry in North America is a unique discovery and a new look on the sphere of food production made by a social geographer and cultural anthropologist. First chapters begin with the first-person description of the structure and facilities of meat industry. Then the author proceeds to the history of producing beef, poultry and meat. The most effective parts of the book are written because of personal observations of the author and his colleagues. Their team consisted of experienced ethnographers that have brilliant analytical skills and eye for details. In the book we read stories about several plants that produce meat. We see the commentaries of supervisors and executives of those plants along with testimonials of the workers. All people give interviews about agriculture, farming and production of beef, poultry and meat. Therefore, the reader gets a great chance to see the process of meatpacking through the eyes of workers; he or she can examine production and notice every small detail.

“At times the authors’ dispassionate ethnographic language struggles with the politically charged subject of the contemporary meat industry” (Horowitz 2012:546). Stull and Broadway criticize companies for creating problems of social character in small neighborhoods, mistreating workers, spoiling nature by using CAFO and feeding Americans with fat food that provokes obesity. “Yet this is not a polemic similar to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2001), for Stull and Broadway have a far wider research base and more sophisticated analysis” (Horowitz  2012: 547).  Although the authors scorn meat industry, their words are not empty criticism but deep analysis of the problem. They give plenty of examples, astonishing statistics and evidences of social, ethnical, psychological and environmental problems. They give us a full picture of beef, poultry and pork production system. The criticism of Stull and Broadway is based on the facts. It is delivered in measured, careful tones and harmonized by interpretation and competing information. However, in Kentucky we see not only criticism of ecological influence but also farmers’ point of view. They consider CAFO not only a source of danger and harm but at the same time a great source of revenue. The authors explain that such methods are beneficial for companies because they spend less money and time for raising poultry.

The last chapter of the book under the name Food for thought is to encourage people not to close their eyes on the topical problems of modern society. Slaughterhouse Blues is not so big in terms of pages, that is why it is easy for the reader to perceive all information. Despite the fact that it is full of statistics and numbers it is interesting to read. All facts serve as examples and facilitate understanding of the main purpose of the reader. The authors are determined about harmful effects of the meat industry on the people and society, but they leave the readers a chance to make their own conclusions. Readers can find information about both sides of the argument. Stull and Broadway provide enough evidences and testimonials of people to highlight the issue from different sides.

This work is not one-dimensional but deep and a thorough research that can be a great basis for further discoveries and scholarly activities. Slaughterhouse Blues contains invaluable information on geography, ethnology, sociology and cultural anthropology. This book is a real food for thought, it is “the challenge for those concerned about developing a sustainable agricultural system, one that respects land, producers, harvesters, and processing workers, is to show consumers the connections between the food they eat and the prevailing industrial production system. Only if we make that connection will more people demand changes in their food and how it is produced. It is to that end, that we offer this book” (Stull 2012:158).

Order now

Related essays