Modern Day Sharecropping

The poultry industry is devastating to both chickens and farmers.

This film has been a long time coming. It must have been two years ago when I first heard about Leah Garces’ work helping poultry farmers on the edge of financial ruin escape an industry that kept them trapped in an endless cycle of debt. My partners and I started developing this film then as the third and last part of our documentary series on animal abuse in factory farming for The Intercept (the first two are here and here).

Then, just when we were ready to start booking travel to shoot it, the pandemic began.

Almost a year later, when we were finally able to fly again, we headed out to North Carolina and Mississippi to spend some time with two ex-chicken growers, Craig and Carlton, to tell their stories of how the industry is basically modern-day sharecropping. The film finally went up today. We’re very happy with how it turned out.

Those who know my work may be aware that one of the most important ethical causes in my life is animal rights. I make a point of always having some project or other to work on related to ending animal exploitation, whether it’s a film or a print article or consulting with my favorite activist group, Direct Action Everywhere.

One of the toughest parts of telling stories about animal exploitation is that we almost instinctively want to turn away from them. They’re just too horrific to contemplate. So my challenge has always been to find ways to sort of smuggle the reality of how we treat animals into stories about issues that people care about but are not so reflexively repelled by.

Lucky for me (so to speak), industrial animal abuse intersects with all sorts of other social ills, including worker exploitation, corporate monopolization, and racism. All of those are issues that I also care about on their own merits. And they’re all central to the story we tell in this particular film.

Filmmaking, which is my main gig, is a much slower process than writing, so this newsletter will never be primarily about that work. But when I do have completed documentaries to show off, I’ll make sure to share them here.