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Plucked and Burned: A Closer Look at America’s Chicken Industry
By Sylvia Tomlinson
ISBN: 0-9720293-2-X

Review by: Kim Krug


Sylvia Tomlinson’s recent publication, Plucked and Burned, presents a moving account of the plight of poultry farmers in the Southeast.

This fictional account tells the story of Doug Blackwelder, a cattle farmer lured into the chicken raising business by the empty promises of Poultry Unlimited (PU). Doug and many of his neighbors face the multiple challenges of working under a complex system of corporate greed and negligence. Depression, mysterious illness, suicide, and murder plague this community as they struggle to meet the unreasonable demands of PU.

Tomlinson’s strength lies in her ability to make real the complex weave of issues at stake for poultry farmers. Although the story is a fictionalized account, the economic tensions and unethical corporate practices oppressing the families within the text are portrayed in vivid detail. This short work does an admirable job of sowing the seeds of sympathy, but sympathy alone is not this author’s goal.

This book is not intended only as a readable exposé of the damage done by large and powerful poultry companies, but as a call to arms for all those horrified by the prospect of allowing these injustices to go unchecked. The forward to the piece, penned by Mary Clouse, a former Director of Contract Reform for Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, charges the reader with a responsibility to act as well as read. She hopes that those who encounter this text “will in turn stand with the farmers across the nation and fight to right the wrongs [Tomlinson] describes so well” (IX).

From a literary perspective, the book periodically falls prey to the lure of melodrama. While the seriousness of the issues considered requires equally serious handling, some of the dialogue and narrative makes the characters less believable and distracts from the problems depicted. For instance, a dream sequence depicting a character “covered in chicken feathers” while vomiting “copper pennies into a cage used for catching chickens” seems almost trivial in contrast to the author’s obvious and sincere concern for the topic under consideration.

Despite this complaint, however, Plucked and Burned is an insightful read for those concerned with the social plights of agricultural America. It provides an eye-opening account of a critical issue to which most consumers are shamefully blind. Its readable, if sometimes clichéd, style makes it a quick and powerful introduction to the horrors of the poultry farming industry


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