U.S. History 1877-Present 4: The Jungle
The Jungle was basically the Food, Inc. of the early 1900s, and it got people thinking that they just might need someone inspecting meat to see if it was rotten or diseased before shipping it out all over the country. Seems like common sense to us...
|U.S. History||U.S. History 1877-Present|
packaged. And it was so gross
that it forever changed both how
we process meat, and how we
treat meat processing workers.
It also ruined a lot of dinnertimes. Well,
The Jungle portrayed meatpacking as being pretty
much as gross as you can possibly
imagine—which, as it turns
out, was pretty accurate. The plant
was shown as dark, unsafe, and so
dirty that you could probably get salmonella
just by wearing flip-flops in their
parking lot. Conditions in the meatpacking
industry became so bad partially
because of industrialization.
Meat used to be one of those things people
produced themselves or bought from
close by, because meat doesn't stay exactly
fresh after weeks traveling via
Pony Express. Railroads
changed all that, making shipping meat a relative
land of one thousand railroads,
was the perfect hub from which
to ship meat across the country, so meat
packing started to be centralized
there. Well, factories and assembly lines
pushed all this work into cramped conditions
and then made people do all the
hacking and sawing all day, every day.
Mechanization also introduced massive
meat grinding machines and other horribly
dangerous things that workers could
die or become dismembered in.
Not exactly a common occurrence
on Ye Olde Family farm.
But after The Jungle was published, things
started to change. The federal government
stepped in and passed the Pure Food
and Drug Act and Meat
Inspection Act in 1906.
Thanks to Upton Sinclair, we have now
reduced the amount of salmonella in
the meat supply to a manageable
amount. Still, ordering rare chicken
is a bad idea. Don't do it, people.
Of course, Sinclair wasn't totally happy with
the change he inspired. Sure,
food inspection was a great new thing. But Upton
was a die-hard socialist.
His main purpose with The Jungle
had been to use the unsanitary
conditions to build sympathy for
Eastern European immigrant workers.
He was way less worried about all the
consumers all there shoveling down tainted meat.
When Americans read Sinclair's book
and felt concern over food safety,
but not over worker well being,
Sinclair famously claimed
that he had aimed at America's heart, but only
succeeded at hitting its stomach.
But hey, uh, at least he didn't hit the funny bone.
That thing hurts forever.