Once upon a time, Chicago was a city known for its slaughterhouse – for example, the Union Stock Yards, which was once one of Chicago’s most notable districts. In fact, Chicago was most famously known for its meatpacking district during the mid-twentieth century. Of course, there were local butchers in the area, as well, but who wanted to get fresh, high-quality meat when they could get preserved, kind-of-high-quality-but-not-really meat from the Union Stock Yard for a cheaper price. As long as you save money, that’s all that matters, right? Not. At the Chicago Humanities Festival, the event, ‘Consuming Animals’, spoke about the butchery business and how the the introduction of the slaughterhouse and meat-packing companies eventually overwhelmed the once-dominant business of meat butchery.
There was once a time when you went to your local butcher to purchase your preferred cut of meat for dinner that night – delicious, fresh, local meat cut by people you knew. Now, today’s generation can’t even fathom the thought of watching an animal getting carved right in front of them, instead of picking it up at their local Jewel-Osco, neatly packaged with their clear plastic wrapping. What had happened?
Well, in fact, your local Wal-Mart or grocery store happened. As more and more people began to desire for cheaper meat, meat-packing companies and slaughterhouses rose to power, local butchers with high-quality meat were unable to compete with the sinking prices that meat-packing companies offered consumers. Local butchers, who were able to utilize every fresh cut of the animal, were now being driven out by companies who only used the cuts of the animal that were most in demand, and wasted the rest of the animal. In a way, the way the speaker lectured about how butchery took advantage of every part an animal how to offer reminded me of the Native Americans and their relationship with the buffalo. The Native Americans made sure that no part would go to waste – even the skeleton of the buffalo would be used for earrings, and other resources. However, when the white settlers discovered the great masses of buffalo, they made a sport out of them, not a resource – they hunted them down, used a few cuts of the buffalo for food, and then let the rest of the buffalo go to waste. See the connection in history? The Native Americans and the butcher were basically in the same position when it came to meat, while the meat-packing companies and the white settlers were in the dominant position, driving out the Native Americans (and the butchers).
This connection in the history of America truly shows the shift in American culture – even when talking about a topic that may seem completely unrelated like meat. The speakers at the lecture spoke about how the butcher was unappreciated, and when meat-packing companies came into the picture, the butchery business was basically distinguished. Think about it. When was the last time you knew where your meat came from?