Why do Americans eat so much beef? In Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America
(Princeton University Press, 2019), the historian Joshua Specht
provides a history that shows how our diets and consumer choices remain rooted in nineteenth century enterprises. A century and half ago, he writes, the colonialism and appropriation of indigenous lands enabled the expansion of western ranch outfits. These corporate ranchers controlled loose commodity chains, until powerful corporate meat packers in Chicago seized the economic order through the tools of modern capitalism (scientific management, standardization, labor suppression). These capitalists expanded the supply chains to far-flung consumers in New York and around the globe. But as meat became a staple of the American diet, and measure of progress, consumers cared more about the price and taste than the violence to people, animals, and environment behind the scenes. “America made modern beef” Specht writes, “at the same time that beef made America modern.”
Ryan Driskell Tate is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Rutgers University. He is completing a book on fossil-fuels and energy development in the American West. He teaches courses on modern US history, environmental history, and histories of labor and capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @rydriskelltate.