More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair investigated American slaughterhouses and wrote about their horrors in vivid detail. The observations he captured in his 1906 landmark novel The Jungle remain as heart-wrenching today as they were then.
Sinclair describes the shock of seeing hogs killed for the first time. Each hangs suspended by a foot, kicking frantically and squealing in terror.
“… One by one with a swift stroke they slit their throats. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly.”
Hog slaughtering “was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory.”
The Jungle gave America its first glimpse of the meat-packing industry’s appalling practices. The power of Sinclair’s prose raised such a public outcry that The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 soon followed its publication.
Sinclair himself was captured by the hogs’ personalities.
“Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity.”
Continuing with the idea that scientific evidence indicates meat isn’t essential for human health, Sinclair offers a suggestion.
Meat eaters should be required to kill any animal they want to eat. If they were, he asks, “How long do you think the custom would survive then?”
As The Jungle draws to a close, its main character Jurgis Rudkus has a sudden realization: Packingtown slaughterhouse treated its employees no better than its hogs:
“Jurgis recollected how, when he had first come to Packingtown, he had stood and watched the hog-killing, and thought how cruel and savage it was, and came away congratulating himself that he was not a hog… a hog was just what he had been.”
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Upton Sinclair’s novel is how little has changed — in either our treatment of animals or of slaughterhouse working conditions.
Although published 114 years ago, The Jungle remains a must-read.