johnston 1

The Quarterback of Team Food Service
by Joseph Johnston

There’s a Hormel factory in Beloit where
they make the canned chili we remember
from tailgating and a shelf-stable
pork spread sent to Guatemalans to
prevent them from starving.

There’s a manager at this plant
who stands twenty feet tall and
two semis wide. He’s the quarterback
of Team Food Service. He didn’t
choose this version of this life 

but he kicks its ass daily and twice
on Sundays. For real. On the day of
rest he shows up unrested to hand out
masks and take the temperatures of the
line workers lined up to process our food.

This is my best friend Bubs. He’s the
quarterback of Team Food Service. Back
in High School he was the center, but that
was just physics. In our minds he was the
chief. The natural leader. Holding court

like a Supreme Court judge, unrested but
tested, exhausted but rising and galvanizing
a harmonizing strategy through tragedy so
you and I can fortify and eat meat and repeat.
All hail the quarterback of Team Food Service!

NOTE: Matt Groves (left) and the author. Top: Recent years; Bottom: Back in the day. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My best friend Matt Groves is a manager at a Hormel Foods plant in Beloit, Wisconsin. We first met in kindergarten, playing marbles and T-ball. In high school we both joined Team Food Service when we got jobs as dishwashers for a local cafeteria. Then we went to college together, and five years after that we stood up in each other’s weddings. Twenty years after that, the pandemic hit and everything turned upside down. He has always been the natural leader of our ragtag gang of cutthroats and outlaws, the Bo Diddley to my Jerome Green, the Mick to my Keef. Hormel is lucky to have him, but I miss him terribly and worry about his safety every day.

johnston 2

Joseph Johnston is a writer and filmmaker from Michigan. His work has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, Midwestern Gothic, Matador Review, and elsewhere. He is currently figuring out remote public schooling with his wife and two kids in the Detroit area while working on a chapbook of prose poems about various points along the Interstate Highway System.