Thursday, September 16, 2021
Kristy Nabhan-Warren is the University of Iowa V.O. and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Chair in Catholic Studies. Her latest book is Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland. Check out the publisher's pitch:
Whether valorized as the heartland or derided as flyover country, the Midwest became instantly notorious when COVID-19 infections skyrocketed among workers in meatpacking plants—and Americans feared for their meat supply. But the Midwest is not simply the place where animals are fed corn and then butchered. Native midwesterner Kristy Nabhan-Warren spent years interviewing Iowans who work in the meatpacking industry, both native-born residents and recent migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In Meatpacking America, she digs deep below the stereotype and reveals the grit and grace of a heartland that is a major global hub of migration and food production—and also, it turns out, of religion.
Across the flatlands, Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims share space every day as worshippers, employees, and employers. On the bloody floors of meatpacking plants, in bustling places of worship, and in modest family homes, longtime and newly arrived Iowans spoke to Nabhan-Warren about their passion for religious faith and desire to work hard for their families. Their stories expose how faith-based aspirations for mutual understanding blend uneasily with rampant economic exploitation and racial biases. Still, these new and old midwesterners say that a mutual language of faith and morals brings them together more than any of them would have ever expected.
Iowa touts the book as "a compassionate and balanced approach to one of the biggest industries in the state." And, I have to say, this review by author Felipe Hinojosa certainly captures the imagination: "Meatpacking America is so vivid: the blood, the smells, the slippery floors, and the sharp knives. I wondered how these workers ever got the stench off their bodies. Did it follow them to the grocery store? To church?"