29 November 2006

The Jungle

One of the blogs that I read fairly regularly is The Gurgling Cod. Recently, Upton Sinclair has come up in two of his posts. The first was a couple of weeks ago, and includes a link to a hilarious and artless rap video deconstruction of The Jungle by a couple of high school girls. Totally worth watching.

Yesterday's post of his takes off from Peter Hoffman's op-ed piece in the Times last week about curing meat, and his inability to do so in his restaurant Savoy, due to all sorts of food safety regulations. The Cod segues from Hoffman to Sinclair and The Jungle, and points out the fact that the book is so often held up as an indictment of the food industry at the turn of the century, and that it spurred the legislation that created the now FDA. In fact, the meatpacking industry is just the hook, the MacGuffin if you will, to a book that's really about immigration and labor relations and poverty and socialism.

I recently read The Jungle, somehow having missed it in high school. I'm interested in food, local food production, sustainable agriculture, cooking, eating - that whole matrix of things. The Jungle gets referenced so often, I thought it was time to read it. And I was startled to find that it really is about so much more than the Chicago meatpacking business of 1906. As Sinclair supposedly said: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."