J. Andrew Curliss’ intriguing High on the Hog series raises questions that aren’t fully answered. Curliss portrays his two hog farmers as plucky innovators, but there’s little information about their relationship to Sumitomo, a giant Japanese consortium that, in its role as pork wholesaler, seems to be a vital player in Eastern North Carolina.
Why, for example, does Sumitomo, in order to supply restaurants that Curliss calls the Japanese equivalent of Cracker Barrel, choose to procure its proprietary Silky Pork from North Carolina rather than from the Midwest, which is a day closer to the California ports? Is it really just the excellent husbandry of the Iveys or are there other considerations?
What about the $14 per hour that slaughterhouse laborers are paid? That’s $29,000 annually. Do they get health benefits? What about disability benefits for this exhausting and dangerous work? How much do their counterparts in Japan make? What will happen to wages here and in Japan if a free-trade agreement is reached? Do any of the bonuses shared by “some” workers find their way to the kill floor?
Answers to these questions and others would flesh out Curliss’ portrait of the regional effects of free trade and neoliberal capitalism.
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