"In the earliest years, settlers trapped, snared, shot, netted, and feasted on venison, squirrel and lobster; pigeon, pheasant, and possum. But they wanted more. Civilized people ate civilized food: beef, mutton and pork. Civilized people exercised dominance over not just land but animals, too, especially cattle, sheep. and swine. To the men and women who settled North America, the idea of a world without livestock was as peculiar, and dangerous, as the notion of a world without God." -- page 2
This quotation from the opening chapter of Maureen Ogles' thought-provoking new book "In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America" pretty much says it all. From the very beginning Americans have been a meat-eating people. The complex story that Maureen Ogle has to tell traces precisely how the American people have gone about the daunting task of producing abundant amounts of meat at a price that the average person can afford. There are many more twists and turns to this story than I anticipated. Central to the story is the evolution of the meatpacking industry in America. You will discover how and why Chicago emerged as the center of the meatpacking industry. Meanwhile, Maureen Ogle will also introduce you to some of the key players in this tale including Philip Armour, Gus Swift, Charles Monfort and Don Tyson to name but a few. You will discover that Gus Swift was a visionary who revolutionized the industry with his plan to ship dressed beef to his customers. And you will meet the man who figured out how to transform chicken from a delicacy served only at the finest hotels to an affordable staple of every American household. Fascinating stuff!
But there are many more facets to the tale Maureen Ogle spins in "In Meat We Trust". In the latter decades of the 19th century Increasing numbers of Americans were becoming concerned about the direction the meatpacking business was taking. Then in 1906 Upton Sinclair published his controversial novel "The Jungle" which exposed the horrific sanitary conditions in meatpacking plants. All hell broke loose. And as Maureen Ogle observes "The relationship between the nation's food production system and the people who ate that food embodied a contradiction: Americans insisted on access to cheap food, regardless of its true cost, but believed the worst of those who made cheap food possible and abundant." It is a contradiction we continue to wrestle with today. In the final chapters of "In Meat We Trust" Ogle discusses the politics of all of this over the past few decades. She covers the emergence of public interest groups advocating on behalf of consumers, the environment and what was left of "family farmers" in the 1990's and touches on the ongoing controversies surrounding the terms "organic" and "natural". Some of this stuff is bound to make your head spin.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed "In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America". I have found over the years that the more facets of American history you expose yourself to the better overall understanding you have of the country. This is a thoughtful, informative and well-written book. I would especially recommend this one to you history buffs out there.
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