And Smith & Wesson gave my uncle a job.
And Sir Walter Raleigh gave my uncle a job.
– Eddie From Ohio – Loitering in the Lobby.
We went to Smithfield for its Olden Days celebration. We ran in a surprising nice park along the Cyprus Creek, looked at some crafts, antiques and old cars, bought a block of cheese, listened to country music, and had the all-important ham sandwich.
While the town celebrated its past, the future of the ham capital of the world remains unclear. Last fall Smithfield became the largest U.S. company ever bought by a Chinese firm. Shuanghui International Holding bought it for $4.7 billion.
It is too early to tell how the acquisition will impact the small town in the long-term. Two articles in the local paper had somewhat positive spins on the current situation, emphasizing that the new owners were taking a hands-off approach and keeping local management in place. But the editor was quoted last year as saying, “All you can do is keep your fingers crossed, hang tight and be positive about the whole thing.” Others have voiced concerns that the feel of the town will change and that much of the land in the area will be bought by foreign interests.
Why did Shuanghui buy the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer? Not only so it could export a good chunk of the ham, but also so it could learn the details of factory farming, including how to churn out an untainted product. Chinese meat producers have major problems with sanitation. And, as the country’s middle class has grown, so has the demand for quality meat.
The large and efficient operation isn’t without critics. The film Food, Inc. touches on the cruel realities of factory farming and the hardships of being an undocumented immigrant working in a slaughterhouse. Still, the Fortune 500 company employees more than 46,000 people, with major operations in Virginia and North Carolina, as well as Mexico and 10 European countries.
Ham production in the area dates back to the 1750s. The packing firm that would become Smithfield Foods opened in 1936. The town has a population of about 8,000. Isle of Wight County has around 36,000 residents.
85 runs down, 49 to go