The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the cordon bleu, the frozen pot pie, and the bacon virtually all come from four companies. Read more...
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The American supermarket seems to represent the best in America: abundance, freedom, choice. But that turns out to be an illusion. The rotisserie chicken, the pepperoni, the cordon bleu, the frozen pot pie, and the bacon virtually all come from four companies.
In "The Meat Racket," investigative reporter Christopher Leonard delivers the first-ever account of how a handful of companies have seized the nation's meat supply. He shows how they built a system that puts farmers on the edge of bankruptcy, charges high prices to consumers, and returns the industry to the shape it had in the 1900s before the meat monopolists were broken up. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the greatest capitalist country in the world has an oligarchy controlling much of the food we eat and a high-tech sharecropping system to make that possible.
Forty years ago, more than thirty-six companies produced half of all the chicken Americans ate. Now there are only three that make that amount, and they control every aspect of the process, from the egg to the chicken to the chicken nugget. These companies are even able to raise meat prices for consumers while pushing down the price they pay to farmers. And tragically, big business and politics have derailed efforts to change the system.
We know that it takes big companies to bring meat to the American table. What "The Meat Racket" shows is that this industrial system is rigged against all of us. In that sense, Leonard has exposed our heartland's biggest scandal.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-03-31
- Reviewer: Staff
In the heated debate on food safety and availability, there have been other serious tomes about the national leviathan farming firms, but Leonard, former national agribusiness reporter for The Associated Press, pulls off a stunning feat in putting the heat on the major industrial meat giants. The hardest body blows are landed by Leonard on Tyson Food, the nation's biggest meat company, whose production and distribution practices were previously hush-hush, due to a rigid code of silence and potential retaliation on those who snitch. Founded during the Great Depression, Tyson Foods fashioned a highly profitable empire through smart alliances with bankers, creating a network of local contract farmers and keeping them on a short economic leash while controlling the entirety of the supply chain. Most alarming is the portion of the book that deals with the shortening of the amount of time it takes to raise a chicken, going from 73 days to 52 days during 1955 to 1982, and the genetic plumping that is controlled by growth hormones. Although Leonard devotes the lion's share of this exposé to Tyson Food, he also catalogues the feverish lobbying, clever patronage, and masterful financial and political schemes among the other giants, all in service of providing product cheaper and faster to the market. Best for those readers who want to know the origins of the animal products they are putting in their mouths. (Feb.)