The preparation and process in which our food is made are often taken for granted. Today, consumers assume that their food was prepared in a clean and humane way. Just some hundred years ago, however, this was not the case. Even in the United States, food was being prepared in conditions that were unthinkable to the common citizen. How did we go from a system that had so little oversight to one of almost unthinkable supervision by the government? The answer came via an enterprising young writer named Upton Sinclair.
Sinclair’s publication, The Jungle, shined a light into the dark and dreary life of a meat packer in Chicago. The Jungle horrified and disgusted readers. The book even had implications on the federal level. President Theodore Roosevelt, himself, even read Sinclair’s publication. The message reached across just food. The book also addressed the condition of the workers in the factories. Upton Sinclair went depicted the dank and musty reality of a factory worker. The Jungle profoundly affected the way our food is processed, as well as how workers are treated.
Sinclair’s work even affected American economics on a global scale. In all, The Jungle changed American life in the early twentieth century from the food industry all the way to the global economy. Upton Sinclair was born in 1878 in Baltimore, Maryland. Born to poor parents, Sinclair experienced poverty firsthand. However, Sinclair’s grandparents were very wealthy, which gave him an insight into the lives of the wealthy as well. Sinclair attended the university of Columbia in New York and majored in Law, though he always aspired to be a writer. Sinclair sought to expose njustice and corruption in the United States. He began with the meat packing industry in Chicago. He went undercover to expose life in the factories.
Sinclair published his findings in The Jungle. His work thrusted him into the public eye as a hero. He was congratulated and admired for his expose on the meat packing industry. Sinclair used his newfound popularity to try a career in politics. Sinclair had been a socialist his whole life and attempted to run as a Socialist for Congress in New Jersey, where he was defeated. He later campaigned again in California; this time for governor.
Sinclair was again defeated, but remained a popular figure in American life. Throughout his life, Sinclair was able to send a message of hope to the lower class. He will forever be remembered for his prized work The Jungle which altered the world and in particular the food industry. Sinclair’s insightful work permanently changed the way food is prepared around the world. Before The Jungle was published, people were unaware of how their food was processed. The food was there in the store and that was all that mattered. This was, of course, until Sinclair’s publication in 1906 hit the shelves.
Readers were completely struck back at its contents. The public was disgusted at how the very food they had eaten for years was prepared. When asked about the effects of The Jungle, Sinclair responded, “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” (Wasowski 2). Sinclair’s nauseating descriptions of these meat packing factories outraged and horrified readers. Sinclair gives an account some of the atrocities, saying, “I saw rooms in which sausage meat was stored, with poisoned rats laying about, and the dung of rats covering them” (Hussey).
The public responded to these horrific claims with outrage. They would not continue to eat food processed in this way. The population demanded change. The Jungle had inspired a social outrage that would not go unnoticed. The outcry for change made its way up the social ladder. Authorities were as surprised as the citizens themselves. They too looked to the factory owners for answers. Naturally, the owners were quick to deflect and criticize the claims. Congressman who represented the meatpacking in Chicago responded to criticism saying, “I know those packing houses as well as I know the corridors of the Capital.
There is not a kitchen of a rich man in this city, or any other, that is any cleaner” (Coodley 45). These responses only made the people more suspicious and again they demanded answers. Ultimately, The Jungle made its way to the highest desk in the land, the desk of Theodore Roosevelt himself. Roosevelt studied Sinclair’s work and questioned their legitimacy. Richard P. Wasowski of Ohio State University addresses these concerns saying, “No one knows exactly the extent of what is fact and what is fiction in The Jungle” (Wasowski 2).
Despite how authentic The Jungle is, its message was enough to persuade congress into action. Within four months of publication, it was credited as a primary force behind the first US legislation to protect consumers from adulterated food and drugs in June 1906″ (Wentworth). The Jungle had accomplished more than Sinclair had ever conceived. It was able to push Congress into passing the 1906 Meat inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. These bills were the basis of the FDA. Sinclair was able to persuade nearly the entire nation into changing the way food was prepared. Over all, The Jungle was able to fix a broken food production system and permanently alter how food was processed.
Sinclair’s motive behind The Jungle was to not only expose the meat industry, but to give us a firsthand account of how the workers suffered. “The Jungle records not just a hatred of social injustice, poverty, and suffering, but an aversion to the body and all of its fluids, smells, and processes” (Derrick). Sinclair wanted to show the public how factory owners were abusing their employees. He spoke of horrid working conditions; no running water, long hours, improper and dangerous equipment, low pay, and filthy conditions.
Sinclair describes these conditions writing, “there was no water in this room at all, and the only method the man adopted for cleaning his hands was to rub them against his dirty apron or on his still filthier trousers” (Sinclair). Sinclair wanted to show America and the world that these were not humane working conditions. Sinclair called out big business across the nation. He condemned their practices and demanded change. He was once quoted calling workers “wage slaves” due to their lack of pay and absence of nearly any basic rights. Sinclair was a large advocate of unions.
He called for workers to organize and demand rights. “After following the famous meat cutters’ strike of 1904, Sinclair wrote an essay challenging the union to do something after it had lost its protest” ( Wasowski 2). Sinclair’s activism against worker abuse has had impacts on today’s workplace. For example, unions are prevalent, workmen’s compensation exists, minimum wage exists, and child labor is illegal. Sinclair was not solely responsible for all of these advances, but progressives such as himself were a large factor in such reforms. Sinclair’s socialism inspired a change in workplaces across the country.
The Jungle was able to raise awareness about worker’s conditions and how immigrants in the factory were exploited and abused. Sinclair’s The Jungle also had major implications outside the U. S. His work spread around the globe, especially to those who did business with America. The Jungle had major effects on the economy of the United States. Overseas, other countries were as horrified as the American public. The American meat industry was hindered economically on a global scale. Michael Hussey, author of Global Muckraking, described the situation saying, “U. S. ndustrialists also reacted with dismay to the possible loss to the American economy from the publicity regarding meatpacking processes” (Hussey).
American industry was threatened due to the work of one junior journalist. The threat became reality soon enough. “In Germany, for example, the German Butchers’ Association petitioned the government not to enter into a treaty with the United States that would allow for increased imports of American beef” (Hussey). With business losses around the world, factories were forced to make improvements to their practices. Sinclair’s The Jungle had serious economic implications around the globe.
From Europe to the ends of Asia, American investors and consumers were repulsed. Sinclair’s goals had nearly come to fruition. He was changing the world for the better. He was helping workers and cleaning up factories. Unfortunately for Sinclair, Capitalism still guided the American economy and society. Socialism was never adopted as he had hoped. Despite that, his work still managed to have major global consequences. American businesses lost major revenue and were forced to make changes. The American meat industry took the largest hit in its history all due to Upton Sinclair and his expose on the meat industry.
In all, Upton Sinclair and The Jungle were able to reform the food industry and lead the charge for worker’s rights. The Jungle was even able to affect American economics on a global scale. Upton Sinclair was among the first of the large Progressive Movement in America. The Jungle was able to push the Progressive movement into the public eye. His work was instrumental in transforming the United States into the nation that it is today. Without men like Sinclair, the Progressive Movement would not have been able to accomplish all that it did. It was able to break down big business while providing rights to workers.
Sinclair’s The Jungle has affected the present in more ways than one. Today, workers enjoy basic rights in the workplace. Consumers are now able to pick up a hamburger from their grocer without worrying if it is contaminated with rat feces. These small things that the masses take for granted today were spearheaded by men like Sinclair. The fact that the food in the United States is monitored and supervised is a direct result of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sinclair’s quest to expose injustice and atrocities was not fruitless. Instead, Sinclair was able to protect millions from contaminated food and create the world in which we live in today.