Historical Tidbits: Meat. “Local” Meat and the Crusade Against the Meatpackers, 1905

In the early twentieth century, Americans struggled to make sense of and manage their new industrial corporate economy.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his “progressive” supporters attempted to dismantle, reorganize, and otherwise tame large corporate conglomerates known as the “trusts.”

These “trusts” (a catchall word used to identify any big industry whether its member functioned as a legal trust or not) included, among others, Standard Oil, the insurance industry, and meatpacking.

Progressives accused the nation’s largest meatpackers of monopolizing railroad transport, of price fixing, of unfair labor practices, and of poor sanitation management.

The results were often comical, as critics charged meatpackers with everything from collusion to communism to excessive capitalism.

But anger also translated into boycotts, legal action, and new ideas.

The “prejudice against the products of the trust packers,” claimed a reporter for an agricultural magazine, was inspiring a new attitude among consumers in the eastern United States. Fed up with the products for the meatpackers in Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City,

. . . there is a growing preference in [eastern] markets for locally slaughtered meats.

Farmers living in eastern states — in the hinterlands of the great urban markets — should profit from that demand, he argued.

Thanks to declining land prices, they could grow corn “as cheaply” as farmers out in the “corn belt,” and if they could grow corn, they could raise livestock, too.

He urged his eastern neighbors to invest in silos, which would allow them to store “cheap” feed and so double the carrying capacity of their land. As a bonus, the animal manure could supplement the “purchased chemicals” farmers already added to their soil.

The implication was clear: Local production and consumption provided the keys to defeating the meat trust.

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Source: “Pure Food — Eastern Beef,” Ohio Farmer 108, no. 8 (August 19, 1905): 116.

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