Gus Garcia-Roberts with Miami New Times was a first-place winner in the Association of Food Journalists competition for his article about illegal slaughterhouses. His article starts with a man named Rafael, who goes shopping to get a pig to roast for his 57th birthday. Gus writes:
“Today’s shopping trip is light years from kosher — and a good trek from the realm of the legal. Miguel [a worker] violated environmental, health, and animal cruelty laws. But it’s business as usual at the tiny, often filthy farms of rural West Dade, where Cubans and other immigrants keep alive a cottage industry of unlicensed slaughter.
But please don’t bother the birthday boy with your wimpy health qualms. ‘Dude, I just picked a pig that I saw was healthy — running around and frisky and all that — watched her be killed and watched her be cleaned,’ Rafael says impatiently as he heads home along Okeechobee Road. ‘How could it be safer than that? If you’d rather eat Hormel or something, go ahead.’”
Today’s Tip: “First find and get to know the real people involved, so you’re not just aiming your pen at a concept,” Gus says.
He says he found Rafael by asking co-workers and friends if they knew any Cubans who were big Noche Bueno, or Christmas Eve, revelers, who might be buying pigs to roast.
Gus said he also wanted to avoid writing the story from a judgmental illegal-pork-is-bad perspective by focusing on police reports or government sources.
“As a reporter, it’s more fun anyway to smoke out (sorry) the real people who don’t see why there’s even an issue here,” he says.
For more reporting tips from Gus, see this interview with the Association of Alternative Weeklies.