TEACH-IN: Food, Power, Labor, and Health through the lens of chicken. MARYN MCKENNA presents BIG CHICKEN and BRYANT SIMON presents THE HAMLET FIRE

In award-winning journalist and TED presenter's new book, BIG CHICKEN: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, Maryn McKenna chronicles how antibiotics transformed chicken from local delicacy to industrial commodity—and human health threat—and uncovers the ways we can, and are, making America’s favorite meat safe once more. In The HAMLET FIRE: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, And Cheap Lives, Bryant Simon details the 1991 fire in a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC that claimed the lives of the 25 employees who were unable to escape through exits, padlocked from the outside. He reveals how cheap labor, cheap government and cheap food came together in an awful way that created a perfect storm in which a deadly fire at Imperial Food Products—or the myriad plants like it across the nation—was all but inevitable.

Come join a fascinating conversation about our food, our health, our economy, and our government with these two well-informed authors.


More about the books: 

BIG CHICKEN: In this eye-opening expose, acclaimed health journalist and National Geographic contributor Maryn McKenna documents how antibiotics transformed chicken from local delicacy to industrial commodity--and human health threat--uncovering the ways we can make America's favorite meat safer again.


What you eat matters--for your health, for the environment, and for future generations. In this riveting investigative narrative, McKenna dives deep into the world of modern agriculture by way of chicken: from the farm where it's raised directly to your dinner table. Consumed more than any other meat in the United States, chicken is emblematic of today's mass food-processing practices and their profound influence on our lives and health. Tracing its meteoric rise from scarce treat to ubiquitous global commodity, McKenna reveals the astounding role of antibiotics in industrial farming, documenting how and why "wonder drugs" revolutionized the way the world eats--and not necessarily for the better. Rich with scientific, historical, and cultural insights, this spellbinding cautionary tale shines a light on one of America's favorite foods--and shows us the way to safer, healthier eating for ourselves and our children.


For decades, the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it had become a post-industrial backwater, a magnet for businesses searching for cheap labor with little or almost no official oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Food Products. The company paid its workers a dollar above the minimum wage to stand in pools of freezing water for hours on end, scraping gobs of fat off frozen chicken breasts before they got dipped in battered and fried into golden brown nuggets and tenders. If a worker complained about the heat or the cold or missed a shift to take care of their children or went to the bathroom too often they were fired. But they kept coming back to work because Hamlet was a place where jobs were scarce. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991, the day after Labor Day, this factory that had never been inspected burst into flame. Twenty-five people--many of whom were black women with children, living on their own--perished that day behind the plant's locked and bolted doors.

Eighty years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, industrial disasters were supposed to have been a thing of the past. After spending several years talking to local residents, state officials, and survivors of the fire, award-winning historian Bryant Simon has written a vivid, potent, and disturbing social autopsy of this town, this factory, and this time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government, and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.

Event date: 
Friday, September 22, 2017 - 6:00pm
Event address: 
Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats Cover Image
ISBN: 9781426217661
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: National Geographic Society - September 12th, 2017

The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives Cover Image
ISBN: 9781620972380
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Press - September 5th, 2017