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.