In The Jungle (1906), Upton Sinclair described the appalling working conditions then prevalent in the nation’s slaughterhouses — and as soon as President Theodore Roosevelt read the novel, he proposed legislation to make the meatpacking industry safer for both workers and consumers. More than a century later, journalist Ted Conover went to work at the Cargill meatpacking plant in Schuyler, Nebraska, as a USDA meat inspector. In this issue of Harper’s Magazine, he describes the process of industrialized slaughter in this modern facility. Meatpacking is a cleaner, more automated, and more humane business than it was in Sinclair’s day. And in this account, the meat inspectors are almost heroic in their diligence. Yet the machinery of slaughter remains unsettlingly gruesome, as Conover witnessed. The level of detail he’s able to provide on the printed page will make you question how often you eat meat, and at what price.
Although corruption in Afghanistan is nothing new, the involvement of a top U.S. official is. This month’s Annotation, by Antonia Juhasz, demonstrates how Zalmay Khalilzad, a U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan during the George W. Bush administration, attempted to steer a lucrative oil contract away from a Chinese company that had successfully bid on it. In a letter of protest to the Afghan government, Khalilzad argued that the contract should have been awarded to his client, the Western-based Tethys Petroleum company—even though the Chinese bid was lower and promised the Afghan government a higher royalty rate. Khalilzad, who was born in Mazar-i-Sharif, is now rumored to be considering a run for the Afghan presidency.
Also in this issue:
Sallie Tisdale’s haunting memoir of her struggle to find the cause of her persistent headache. In “An Uncommon Pain,” Tisdale describes how the ordinary headache may have many different causes. Her account will resonate with many readers who live with chronic pain.
In “Jingo Unchained,” Michael Brick gives readers a portrait of the American wrestler who since taking on the persona of RJ Brewer, “son” of Arizona governor Jan Brewer, has become the performer Mexicans most love to hate.
Also included are photographic portraits by Katy Grannan; a story by Charles Baxter; a review of Willa Cather’s letters; and, in Readings, a memoir by Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu, Elizabeth Warren vs. HSBC, fiction by Joshua Cohen and Mary Ruefle.
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