Question: Whose the bigger jerk of these two? It’s not the no-brainer you’re thinking it is.
I wouldn’t know Paula Deen if you pointed her out to me walking down the street. I suspect most people around the country are not all that familiar with her either unless they consider themselves a food maven who’s easily captured by TV programs where an array of chef’s are now displaying their culinary skills on network and cable channels.
It appears Ms. Deen, the “Southern, folksy” chef who has a program on the Food Network, has been charged, along with her brother Bubba Hier, by a former employee of theirs who managed one of Ms. Deen’s Georgia restaurants, for committing “numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of [a] five-year tenure [for that manager] at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House eateries in Savannah.”
From what little follow-up I have read on this it appears our Southern belle cook is genuinely contrite, saying in one video she released that “Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners, I beg for your forgiveness.” Until I see evidence that cancels out this expression of remorse I will take Ms. Deen at her word.
For those who care about the fate of Ms. Deen’s celebrity more than I do you can rest assured that I am not likely to be the source of any future outcomes for the former Food Network host. You would not be reading any of this from me in fact if it were not for one little piece of information that I came across in passing regarding Ms. Deen’s circumstances.
Many of you know that I have made a lifestyle change and decided to forego, as best I can, meat and dairy in order to improve my overall health. I was determined to get away from processed foods and any and all factory-farmed meat and dairy products, eating only whole food, plant-based organically grown products. I laid out my case in a post I published earlier here. Since then I have been reading a lot of about food and how it makes it to our table. In so doing I came across one very informative book by Wenonah Hauter called, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. Ms. Hauter had quite a bit to say about the world’s largest hog producer, Smithfield Food, Inc., and they are not very complimentary.
It’ll appear at first I am going off on some food tangent here and leave you wondering what all this has to do with Paula Deen. But bear with me please. I promise it will come full circle before I conclude.
Smithfield Food, who late last month sold out to a Chinese conglomerate, has an established business model that’s not only benefitted them in becoming the huge economic success they have but one that also disregards the rights of small hog suppliers, the safety of their own employees, the humane treatment of their hogs and the negative impact from manure spillage on land where they own facilities in 26 U.S. states, including the largest slaughterhouse and meat processing plant in the world, located in Tar Heel, North Carolina.
A Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C.
According to Ms. Hauter, Smithfield’s business model “controls all aspects of production and processing, including feed manufacturing, transportation, packing, sales, and distribution. This operating model generates sales exceeding $11 billion a year.”
As a result of their massive growth they are so powerful in the hog market that they can command prices, often so low that small farmers can’t break even most times when forced to sell at the rates Smithfield sets. Many small hog farms go into bankruptcy and wound up selling off land that generated a way of life for decades for them and their families. From Ms. Hauter’s research I have learned that there were 2.1 million American hog farms in the 1950‘s. Today she says “there are just 78,895 hog farmers left in the United States, even though hog production and consumption has increased dramatically since the 1950s.” This last statement is a testament to the fact that large factory farms like Smithfield, the largest of four corporations, who as of 2007, control 66% of the hog market.
They have expanded into European markets where land prices and labor was cheaper and wound up putting many small family farms out of business there too, in Poland and Bulgaria. They have violated anti-trust laws in some cases where they bought off the larger outfits they competed with. The millions of gallons of hog waste they produce become more than they can control and often seeps into the soil or runs into tributaries that supplies water for the surrounding communities.
Over a four-year span, Smithfield’s lagoons spilled two million gallons of waste into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River, and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek.
The excessive levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in hog waste consume the oxygen in the waterways, which can result in algal blooms and fish kills. That is exactly what happened in 2003, when a Smithfield operation’s runoff flowed into North Carolina’s Neuse River and killed four million fish in a five-day span.
Paula Deen in happier times with her previous sponsor’s product
But the connection between Smithfield and Paula Deen that prompted me to write this piece was what the massive hog producer had to say when they publicly announced they would no longer sponsor Ms. Deen’s program on the Food Network. Keira Lombardo, the Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications of Smithfield Foods gave the following reason for their decision to drop Paula Deen as one of her sponsors:
“Smithfield condemns the use of offensive and discriminatory language and behavior of any kind. Therefore, we are terminating our partnership with Paula Deen. Smithfield is determined to be an ethical food industry leader and it is important that our values and those of our spokespeople are properly aligned.” emphasis mine SOURCE
You’ve got to have quite a large set of gonads to disparage someone else about how they treat their employees when you are one of the worst role models around for such behavior.
Ethics at Smithfield exist in word only as Wenonah Hauter’s report on Smithfield Foods has demonstrated. Their values are purely aligned with making the greatest profit they can at the expense of their workforce where Smithfiled’s loyalty to those people who have made them the top pork producer in the country is pretty much non-existent.
In a report done by the Research Associates of America entitled “Packaged with Abuse: Safety and Health Conditions at Smithfield Packing’s Tar Heel Plant,” we learn that in one particular case an employ was summarily dismissed after she failed to return to work shortly after developing a slipped disc in her back while on the job.
“Vanessa McCloud’s job for seven years was to cut the skin off of frozen pork as it came down the line at breakneck speeds at Smithfield’s Tar Heel packing plant. One day, Vanessa slipped a disc in her back while on the job. She was not able to return to work immediately and was fired, according to the report. She received no worker’s compensation and has since applied to Medicaid in hopes of paying her medical bills.
The Research Associates report alleges that Vanessa’s experience is typical of workers at the plant. To meet production goals, the processing lines at the plant move extremely fast. Workers who fall behind have reported being verbally abused or even fired.
The list of injuries reported at the [Tar Heel] plant is lengthy, … [consisting of health issues with] repetitive motion disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, contusions, and blunt traumas from slipping and falling on wet floors, cuts and punctures, infections causing the fingernail to separate from the finger, fractures, amputations, burns, hernias, rashes, and swelling are all potential dangers to workers – and injuries are on the rise. From January to July of 2006, 463 injuries were reported at the Tar Heel plant, which surpassed a total of 421 in the previous year.
The report goes on to say that, instead of helping the wounded workers, Smithfield uses intimidation to prevent them from reporting their injuries. Even when they do report injuries, they are often denied workers’ compensation. And then because of their disabilities they frequently cannot find gainful employment again SOURCE