Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with a coworker concerning hunting and fishing. Their outlook was that they believed both these activities to be brutal sports undertaken by individuals with no love or compassion for Gods creatures. When I inquired if they ate meat I received a most zealous "of course, I certainly aren't one of those damn vegetarians." Intrigued by this seemingly contradictory statement, I inquired how they could loathe hunting and fishing and yet find the eating of meat acceptable. It was explained to me that modern practices around the slaughtering of domesticated animals is a well controlled and regulated process. The federal government, FDA, etc. create and enforce guidelines that "guarantee" meat products are acceptable to eat. Game animals shot by hunters, according to this individual, were unfit to eat, carry diseases and are full of contaminates. The act of buying meat off a shelf in a styrofoam tray and safely sealed in plastic wrap was a civilized practice whereas killing and butchering your own meat barbaric. Through his tirade, I had all I could do to hold it together and not burst out in hysterical laughter. In the end, however, I simply let the individual be content with their beliefs. Sometimes people are to stuck in their ways for me to invest the time it would require to explain a differing viewpoint. After all isn't ignorance bliss? So this very long intro sets the stage leading into my recent book purchase.

Just before New Years, I found myself at the bookstore liquidating some gift cards with this prior conversation still dragging its dirty unkempt nails down my chalkboard of a brain. Walking the aisles, perusing various titles, I stumbled upon Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle". I had heard about this classic piece of literature many times before in english and history classes but yet had a chance to read it. A quick scan of the back cover read, "this novel exposed the disgusting filth and contamination of the nations food supply". Bingo, I took the book to the counter along with Vonnegut's "Slaughter House-Five" (another story for another time) threw down my gift cards and was out the door.

As many of you know, I have a passion for literacy and firmly believe that if you want to be a good writer you have to be a voracious reader. Because of these beliefs, I was anxious to immediately start reading to build a frame work upon which to write out a few thoughts on our nations food supply and the publics perception of it.

Finally able to open the book on a snowy wintry New Years day, I was captivated and unable to put it down till I finished three days later. While typically, I dog ear dozens and dozens of pages and wear out a high lighter reading a novel of this size, I was so captivated by the story that I mostly forgot my standard anal practices.

In a nutshell, the novel is written around the plight of the main character Jurgis and the atrocious conditions he and his family had to endure. These hardships were enough to make even the most hardened soul empathetic. Jurgis loses everything, his wife and son die, he loses his job, flirts with starvation, is robbed of all his money and goes to jail. He finally leaves jail, realizes crime pays and finally is "saved" by members of the Socialist party. Basically, his life reads like a bad country song.

Of course, what made this book infamous and most interesting to me were its reporting of the flith and general disregard for the public health that were evident in the meat packing facilities of the time. So powerful and disturbing are the written descriptions that the book prompted changes in food processing industry that echo to present day.

Cover to cover this was a fantastic read. Interesting tidbits could be found throughout the book. Mentioned in the introduction is a book by Eric Schlosser titled "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal". Written in 2001 it is described as a modern day version of "The Jungle". It was immediately added to my reading list. Yet another book now on my reading list includes, "The Civilizing Process" for a quote from the introduction: "reminders that the meat dish has something to do with the killing of an animal are avoided to the utmost. In contrast to the medieval practice of bringing the entire animal to the table, sometimes with hoofs and feathers still attached, in more recent times, the animal form is so concealed and changed by the art of its preparation and carving that while eating one is scarcely reminded of its origins".

Additionally, several quotes jumped off the pages that were interesting because of their content, descriptions or the thoughts they provoked. They include a few, from the introduction, that pull quotes from other books as well as good writing from within the body of the novel. I won't bother to list them here but will encourage you to give the book a good read and make your own decisions.


  1. Excellent post!
    I think that it is very important that people be reminded where food really comes from. By constantly buying prepackaged meat we have bred the next generation to believe food does not come from nature but from walmart. It is a sad set of events. I commend anyone who harvest their own meat from animals that lived just as they should verses on over crowded feed lots.

    Some brain candy you may be interested in, the film Food inc. Its a documentary that will re- inspire motivate and get your heart pounding.

    Thanks for the great reading!

  2. Leigh,

    Thanks for dropping a comment . . . I just added Food Inc. to my Netflix!

  3. I find this terribly amusing. I also find it amusing when people who eat meat admit that they could never kill an animal.

    As part of our kids education, we raise rabbits and chickens for meat. The rabbits we harvest ourselves. The chickens we have butchered. The kids have watched me take care the rabbits and have been to the butcher where they've seen the 1/2 cows and pigs hanging from the racks freshly butchered. My 12 year old is also convinced that I need to take her into the woods when I go bowhunting. Clearly, my children understand.

    For the same reasons, we garden and will be working on expanding our foraging efforts.

    Thanks for the laugh.

  4. Great post!

    When I stopped being a vegetarian, it was the need to confront where-meat-came-from that led me to hunting.

    These issues trigger quite a mix of reactions for folks. I started a blog recently and my first post was about just this: how some meat-eaters don't like hunting and won't eat game, while some folks won't eat any meat except game. I know dedicated carnivores who just can't stand the idea of eating Bambi...or who couldn't imagine doing the killing themselves.



  5. An excellent post, the more people that realise from whence their food (yes food, not just meat) appears magically upon the venders shelving then the more people may then realise that hunting for your pot is not such a bad thing after all.

  6. Aside of the great discussion generated once again by your controversial literary strife, I look forward to the abundance of processed meats and homegrown grub to augment the misery of what we shall smell for our 4 day jaunt in Grand Lake Stream. I'm currently in the process of preparing deer jerky by the pound, but my three year old loves that "smooth jerky". I can't dehydrate enough venison to stay ahead of her!!!

  7. Thanks all for the comments. I don't know where the disconnect is occurring in our society but it appears to be spreading rapidly. Take a walk down the "meat" aisle at any supermarket and take a good look at how these consumables are displayed. Nothing looks anything like the animal it once had been. Even fish are filleted and lacking fins or heads. Everything is designed to give the illusion of sterility.

    One last observation. Why is it that the english language substitutes a separate word for the animal we eat. Cow is beef, pig is pork, lamb is mutton, chicken is poultry. Look at any other language and it is the same word. Why must we distance ourselves so far from what we eat?!?

  8. DEDH, I am pickling eggs this weekend. I only pray they are ready in time for GLS!

  9. That point, about using different words for animals and for their meat, is one I've usually heard made by vegetarians (like I used to be). They, too, protest the apparent "distancing" effect.

    Interestingly, though, one of the International Vegetarian Union's webpages ( debunks it. I haven't yet tracked down all the word origins myself, but the IVU suggests that the Anglo-Saxon peasants of medieval England used their words for the animals they tended (pig, calf, sheep). The aristocracy, who actually got to eat the meat, used their Norman-French words for the same animals (porc/pork, veau/veal, moutun/mutton) and the French names stuck in association with the meat itself.

  10. TC, interesting thanks for providing additional background. It has been a "word" phenomenon in our culture that has always intrigued me.


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