Letter – Saddened by Foods decision

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

My brother, James, recently sent me a copy of the article (“End of an era,” Jan. 31) reporting the decision by Smithfield Foods to discontinue the production of “Genuine Smithfield Ham.” I wanted to express both my disappointment in and a comment on this shortsighted decision.

I moved to Smithfield when I was a year old. Except for a two-year hiatus in the mid 1950s, my father worked for Gwaltney Inc. from 1943 until he retired in the late 1960s. I grew up in Smithfield, attended elementary and high school there, worked some six summers for Gwaltney Inc., and have been proud to call Smithfield my hometown wherever I have gone. Whenever a stranger asks me where Smithfield is, I ask, “Have you ever heard of or eaten Smithfield Ham?” The vast majority of folks invariably say yes, and that alone opens the door for conversation.

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“Smithfield Ham” has created a worldwide legacy for the town. Unfortunately, it won’t take many generations for that legacy to drift into obscurity and vanish altogether. That would be both a sincere disappointment to me (and others), as well as a tragedy for the town and for the primary industry of the town.

I hope the Town Council and Smithfield Foods can work together to develop a more imaginative and less costly – if not profitable – approach to solving the company’s current concern. Here are two ideas:

  1. Foods could/should recognize that it has a valuable legacy to protect and take steps to keep the product alive. For example, it could announce and publicize that it will only produce and sell a limited number of “Genuine Smithfield Hams” each year (i.e., 400-500) and they will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. I believe that this could establish an even greater demand among those around the world who know of and love the ham.
  2. Work to amend existing state law to expand the definition of “Genuine Smithfield Ham” to cover a defined radius around the town limits (e.g., 10-15 miles). Then, as long as existing criteria for preparation and curing are complied with, this would allow other country ham producers and sellers to produce, promote and sell a “Genuine Smithfield Ham.”

I hope that Smithfield Foods recognizes the ultimate harm that this decision does both to the company’s reputation and to the legacy of the town that serves as its headquarters.


Victor A Bell Jr.

Savannah, Georgia