Meatpacking America

How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland

By Kristy Nabhan-Warren

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6349-4
    Published: September 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6348-7
    Published: September 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6350-0
    Published: August 2021

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Whether valorized as the heartland or derided as flyover country, the Midwest became instantly notorious when COVID-19 infections skyrocketed among workers in meatpacking plants—and Americans feared for their meat supply. But the Midwest is not simply the place where animals are fed corn and then butchered. Native midwesterner Kristy Nabhan-Warren spent years interviewing Iowans who work in the meatpacking industry, both native-born residents and recent migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In Meatpacking America, she digs deep below the stereotype and reveals the grit and grace of a heartland that is a major global hub of migration and food production—and also, it turns out, of religion.

Across the flatlands, Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims share space every day as worshippers, employees, and employers. On the bloody floors of meatpacking plants, in bustling places of worship, and in modest family homes, longtime and newly arrived Iowans spoke to Nabhan-Warren about their passion for religious faith and desire to work hard for their families. Their stories expose how faith-based aspirations for mutual understanding blend uneasily with rampant economic exploitation and racial biases. Still, these new and old midwesterners say that a mutual language of faith and morals brings them together more than any of them would have ever expected.

About the Author

Kristy Nabhan-Warren is the V. O. and Elizabeth Kahl Figge Chair of Catholic Studies and a professor in the Departments of Religious Studies and Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa. She is the author, most recently, of The Cursillo Movement in America: Catholics, Protestants, and Fourth-Day Spirituality.
For more information about Kristy Nabhan-Warren, visit the Author Page.


"Nabhan-Warren’s prose is clear and often absorbing. Unclogged with needless jargon and centered firmly on the fascinating lives of her subjects, it is easily readable for a general audience. Anyone interested in the intersection of migration, labor and animal agriculture — situating the American Midwest, one of the world’s major food providers, in the global context to which it properly belongs — will benefit from Meatpacking America."—Little Village Magazine

"In her thoughtful and moving Meatpacking America, Kristy Nabhan-Warren scratches beneath the surface of Red State, small-own America to tell a story that is both sobering and encouraging...[Her] discussion of the plant's blood, guts, and stench are stomach-turning, but her assessment of its workers - white, Latino, Congolese, Vietnamese - are inspiring."—Patheos

"As Kristy Nabhan-Warren shows in her fascinating new book, Meatpacking America, churches are once again the institutions on which many of the industry’s workers most rely...Nabhan-Warren argues that faith enables Midwestern meatpacking workers of diverse backgrounds to survive the day-to-day horrors of their jobs and seek better lives for their children."—Commonweal Magazine

“Anyone interested in faith and work, immigration, American history, or even just a good story will find this to be a fascinating, emotional, and vitally important book. In its pages, abstract political debates break away in the face of the messier reality of migration as a new “religion of real life” is uncovered."—The Christian Century

"Based on interviews with more than 100 native Iowans and immigrants from nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Honduras, Nabhan-Warren presents a nuanced view of citizen–immigrant relations that challenges the common narrative and prompts readers to consider a more complex narrative."—Civil Eats

"Vivid portrayal of the dailiness of people doing hard jobs that are largely hidden from public view is a supremely valuable enterprise, and Nabhan-Warren does it with insight and compassion. Furthermore, she raises interesting questions about the role of religion in the local absorption of international migrants."--The Daily Yonder