Written by Maureen Ogle
The untold story of how meat made America: a tale of the self-made magnates, pragmatic farmers, and impassioned activists who shaped us into the greatest eaters and providers of meat in history
The moment European settlers arrived in North America, they began transforming the land into a meat-eater’s paradise. Long before revolution turned colonies into nation, Americans were eating meat on a scale the Old World could neither imagine nor provide: an average European was lucky to see meat once a week, while even a poor American man put away about two hundred pounds a year.
Maureen Ogle guides us from that colonial paradise to the urban meat-making factories of the nineteenth century to the hyperefficient packing plants of the late twentieth century. From Swift and Armour to Tyson, Cargill, and ConAgra. From the 1880s cattle bonanza to 1980s feedlots. From agribusiness to today’s “local” meat suppliers and organic countercuisine. Along the way, Ogle explains how Americans’ carnivorous demands shaped urban landscapes, midwestern prairies, and western ranges, and how the American system of meat making became a source of both pride and controversy.
From Publishers Weekly
Ogle (Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer) lucidly demonstrates how the American meat-making machine came to span the entire continent, from the grass-rich range of the Far West to slaughterhouses and wholesale markets at the other , with farmers squeezed throughout the middle. Ogle tracks the rise of factory farming, the introduction of subsidies for farmers, and the use of chemicals in animal husbandry, each in light of the consumer-advocacy backlash that spawned the organic and alt-agriculture movements. Ogle's quick wit helps her corral such a large topic, keeping the involved history to an easily digestible format. Given the recent onslaught of publications picking sides on the issues of food production, Ogle's bipartisan approach is a breath of fresh air. In fact, if Ogle has issue with anyone in the food chain, it is the American people and our sense of entitlement and the way it contributes to the high cost of cheap living. This type of straightforwardness might make the book hard to stomach for some, but it can't be denied that Ogle has served up a lot of truth. Agent: Jay Mandel, William Morris Endeavor (Nov.)
Buy local! Eat organic! Grass-fed beef is best! These declarations are no longer the cries of sustainable farming activists on the fringe. Rather, the middle class has begun to champion a return to small-scale meat production, with cattle, pigs, and chickens that aren’t hopped up on antibiotics or growth hormones happily roaming the family farm. The problem with this utopian dream, according to Ogle, is that mom-and-pop farms never actually dominated the landscape at any point in American history, since they could never meet the country’s insatiable appetite for bountiful, low-cost meat. Instead, the agribusiness behemoths that have become villains in contemporary consciousness are actually examples of innovators and entrepreneurs who have kept our fickle nation fed. Ogle traces the stories of meat-industry movers and shakers, from colonial times to the present, and lambasts those she sees as reactionary, self-serving whistle-blowers, including Upton Sinclair and Ralph Nader. A well-researched history of the American meat industry that will appeal to readers looking for a counterpoint to Fast Food Nation (2001) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006). --Amye Day Ong
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