How accurate is Sinclair's "The Jungle"

How historically accurate is Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”? I’ve always been told that it was based on actual facts and working conditons. Now that I’m reading it, some of it strikes me as propaganda-like. So what’s the scoop? I don’t doubt that unskilled working contitions were poor in the early 1900’s. and that some people running food-processing plants were apt to let quality control slide if it meant some extra bucks…
but people falling into processing vats and rendered into lard? Toes dropping off from exposure to potasium nitrate?
Was Sinclair streatching things to make a point, or is this all true? Enquiring minds want to know!

My late grandfather, who was a USDA meat inspector at around the time this book was written, said the book was not completely accurate. He said it the real conditions were much WORSE.

Your grandfather said conditions were WORSE? For the workers or for the crud processed as food? Please elaborate.

The Jungle is propaganda. But not in the way you’re thinking. Upton Sinclair was trying to make a statement about socialism with the book. But the disgusting scenes you mention garnered way more attention than his intended message.

Upton Sinclair said “I aimed for the heart, and hit the stomach.”

And, the scenes are accurate. Or, as Chas.E. suggests, the scenes were not accurate because they were not disgusting enough

It is very hard for 21st century Americans to conceive of what our food supply was like before the various Food and Drug acts. If you are interested in culinary history, I can recommend some books. If you are not, then I just want to make one point: We take our safe food supply for granted, but food safety is a relatively recent development.

Yes, you are 100% correct. I am convinced that many who say “The Jungle was an expose of the meatpacking industry.” have never actually read the book.

The meat-packing and food processing industries are still not all that clean. The FDA, for example, has rules about how much rat feces can be in a food product, and still be fit for human consumption. Partly, this is a recognition of certain practical issues, such as the fact that rats will get in anywhere there’s food, and they’re gonna take a dump pretty much anywhere they go. Some of it, however, is the industry’s resistance to tougher standards, which will cost money, and make their products less competitive with food from countries with standards even more lax.

I have a friend, a good friend, who worked for a fish-packing plant. Her job was to shovel the breading crumbs frm a large vat into the machinery that actually applied the breading to a popular brand of fish-stick. In order to do this, she had to actually stand in the crumb vat.

<Disgusting info ahead. If you like fish sticks, stop now>

<Last chance>

She took her work boots off and placed them on the porch each night, as they were covered in caked-on bread crumbs. One morning, she took a look at the bottom of her boots. There were maggots living in between the cleats of her boots. The ones she used for standing in the bread vat. No joke, though God knows I wish it were. She won’t eat pre-breaded products now. Neither will I, nor my family.

Well, Green Bean, I would be interested in your recommended books!

Ok, never eating breaded food again.

I recommend the book “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. It is an updated “Jungle” about the present-day fast food industry… the chapters on the meatpacking plants are quite horrifying.

You don’t want to know. Really you don’t. I get queasy just recalling some of his stories.

Call me crazy, but I think I’ll still eat fish sticks. After all, I’ve been eating 'em for years, with no ill effects. When I first heard this sort of thing, it bothered me, but then I realized that since it doesn’t really affect the food, or me, I don’t care.

here’s another example that’s not quite so revolting . . . I’ve been reading up on U.S. history at the turn of the last century (1880s as a midpoint), and read up on the stale beer bars (not the standard term but it’s the best I can do without the book).

At the better bars, when the beer went stale, instead of dumping it, it was sold to someone, who resold it to bars at the lower strata. When it turned so bad that the customers complained, it was resold to those on the bottom level, who couldn’t afford better. To help the customers get drunker quicker, it was sometimes spiked with various chemicals that could end up blinding or killing you (perhaps the source of the term “blind drunk.”)

Gross stuff, but human digestion’s pretty tough.

If the “meat” sold by the turn-of-the century packers was all that toxic, why would people buy it? And why would the meat industry want to poison their customers? Yes, I agree that sanitation wasn’t very good in the 1890’s-but consider how dirty most food was back then! Food poisoning was probably one of the common causes of death.

Yes, in the olden days, lots of people died of food-borne illnesses, and life expectancies were shorter. But you have to consider, mankind evolved as omnivores, eating rotting mastodon meat and junk like that. Humans are pretty tough.

People bought it because they generally had no choice. Even if a customer was willing to pay the extra expense to buy quality fresh food produced in sanitary conditions, they was no practical way to tell what those products were. Due to the virtual non-existence of government oversight, any company could claim they were using the best of ingredients and production methods and not worry about the consequences if they were lying.

So some companies presumedly chose to produce good food and incur the extra costs of this decision. Other companies chose to produce their food as cheaply as possible, regardless of what the resulting quality was. Then the good and bad food was packaged indistinguishably and sold to the consumer. The dishonest producers were rewarded by their duplicity with higher profits and the bad food drove the good out of competition.

From what I understand, people eat like that all the time in your poorer, developing countries. My advisor has mentioned several times about the meal he had with a family in Guatemala-the woman saved up all she could to buy the professors who were visiting meat for dinner-nothing but half rotten fat and gristle-he couldn’t refuse because it would offend her, so you had to put it on the back of your tongue and drink it down with water.