The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
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Why It Mattered: Brought public attention to the food industry in an unprecedented way
Upton Sinclair did not set out to change the practices of the meat industry when he wrote The Jungle. He worked incognito for weeks in Chicago meatpacking plants not to begin the work necessary to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906—though without his novel, neither would have come so swiftly—but to draw attention to the evils of capitalism. To quote Karl Marx, Sinclair set out to illustrate this: "Capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." He wanted to show just how much life—all of it—was being vacuumed from Americans via wage slavery. But, as Sinclair said, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."
Readers were so disturbed by his graphic descriptions of the meat industry that the federal government was forced to investigate. The resulting legislation, along with the creation of the FDA, fundamentally changed how we can legally eat.