Scenes From 'This Horror' in Iowa

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Joe Fassler


Anyone who's driven through Iowa knows when he or she is near hog and chicken factories—the car is invaded by their stench. Soon long, low, windowless hangars appear in rows looking, in the benign interpretation like hotels on a Monopoly board or, in the less benign interpretation, like dormitories in a concentration camp. Only vents like portholes betray what's inside, at least in what you can see from the road. The large companies that own and the run the factories don't want to let you anywhere near them, let alone inside.

I saw this for myself when I went to Iowa for a piece on Niman Ranch pork, raised on pasture—the profitable, principled alternative to the "concentrated animal feeding operations," as the factories are called. In an interview with Paula Crossfield, Dan Imhoff, author of the new CAFO Reader, a collection of essays that is required reading for anyone thinking about factory farming, describes the peerless Wendell Berry's contribution:

Wendell [says that] when you lose your small farmers, you lose your community. When you lose your community, you lose your reverence for the land. When your reverence for the land is turned over to this higher corporate economic power, then everything becomes commodified. Then we lose the beauty and our control over a healthy life, the fabric of our country. And these are the issues that are at stake here.

Joe Fassler, an MFA fiction student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, drove over to Clarion, the seat of Wright County, which gives its name to a business at the center of the egg recall: Wright County Egg. He tried to get inside the company's corporate offices, but of course didn't. He did, though, talk to a lot of the town's residents about the effects DeCoster operations have had on a town that, as Verlyn Klinkenborg, who grew up in Clairon, described it yesterday in the New York Times, has been transformed from the landscape he knew to "this horror":

Instead of people on the land, committed to the welfare of the agricultural enterprise and the resources that make it possible, there was this horror—a place where millions of chickens are crowded in tiny cages and hundreds of laborers work in dire conditions.

Listen to some of the voices Fassler did get to hear—and join Imhoff in his hope "that people in Poland and Romania read it and maybe the Ukraine and Georgia, and anywhere else that the CAFO industry is beginning to set its sights" read his book too.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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