I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.
On this day in 1878, Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Sinclair is a famous muckraking journalist known today for his 1906 novel, The Jungle. Muckrakers were investigative journalists who rose to popularity during the Progressive Era because they exposed the ugly truths of industrialization and promoted reform. The Jungle uncovered the disgusting secrets of the meatpacking industry.
[T]he meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit… There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water—and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast.
-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
People were so affected by his depiction of the meat-packing industry that they demanded change. The public outcry led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
Sinclair, a Socialist, is sometimes criticized for the idealistic views apparent in his writing. Regardless, he shed light on the grisly details of the meatpacking industry and united the public against unsafe practices in the food industry.
I still might not be able to eat sausage in a while though…