You Are No Upton Sinclair, Sir

Prairie Gleanings

Some folks need to re-read "The Jungle."

Published on: September 14, 2009

News flash for Bryan Walsh, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan: you are not Upton Sinclair and your work is nothing like "The Jungle."


Let me explain.


It seems each time an author, such as the three aforementioned folks, pens an article or book that is critical of the modern food industry, critics, readers and bloggers who support the work rush to compare it to "The Jungle."


Case in point: "And although there's no doubt Walsh owes his knowledge to the masters who came before him (Sinclair, Schlosser, Pollan), the addition of his pen to this cause might be just what is needed to light a fire with the masses." This is from a blog that popped up when I Googled "Walsh, The Jungle."


I've read "The Jungle." It's primary purpose is not to tell folks how bad the packing industry was in Chicago. It was written in attempt to drum up support for socialism and institute workers' rights. In fact, Sinclair was given an advance from a socialist newspaper to write it.


While Sinclair does discuss the conditions of the meat packing industry, the vast majority of the novel is spent following the plight of a fictional working-class family in Chicago. Sinclair's style is vivid. I could actually feel the Chicago wind as it needled through Jurgis' threadbare coat.


The creation of the Food and Drug Administration as a result of Sinclair's novel was a mere byproduct. He set out to strengthen workers' rights.


On the other hand, our modern-day "Sinclairs" are launching specific attacks against the food industry. Most of which target today's farmer. There is no fictional story and vivid imagery. Their books and articles are filled with misrepresentations of facts and a skewed point of view that attacks anything to do with mainstream food production.


Before the supporters of these authors place them in the same league with Sinclair, I urge them to re-read "The Jungle." There's a reason it's classified as a great American novel. The writing is terrific. The story is fascinating. And, except for the socialist rally at the end, I didn't feel beat over the head with a political viewpoint.


Thus, stop placing Sinclair's work alongside today's anti-food agendas. "The Jungle" was a lot more than that.

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