By 1906, it was obvious to many people that the industrialization of food production in the United States had brought with it some unpleasant and even unsafe practices. Consumers were definitely not getting exactly what they thought they were getting.
But efforts to reform the industry – and to protect consumers – were mired in the power of this lobby (with strong political power based on its great economic power), the resilience of laissez-faire ideas, and the intransigence of powerful individuals in the Senate. There were legislative proposals, but the overall reform agenda was not really going anywhere fast.
Then Upton Sinclair published The Jungle. No one could look at meat packing or its products in the same way again, and this directly and immediately helped produce stronger federal legislation regulating the industry.
So who is our Upton Sinclair and when will they write the definitive piece that captures imaginations and changes the terms of the debate? Is it about how consumers were mistreated, politicians captured, or the public treasury ransacked? Will it be a novel or nonfiction?
Or perhaps it is a movie, with all the modern Hollywood marketing techniques and tie-ins?
By Simon Johnson