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Posts Tagged ‘Cardinal Richelieu

“The great packing machine ground on remorselessly, without thinking of green fields; and the men and women and children who were part of it never saw any green thing, not even a flower”*…

 

beef

 

Cheap beef and a thriving centralised meatpacking industry were the consequence of emerging technologies such as the railroad and refrigeration coupled with the business acumen of a set of honest and hard-working men like… Philip Danforth Armour. According to critics, however, a capitalist cabal was exploiting technological change and government corruption to bankrupt traditional butchers, sell diseased meat and impoverish the worker.

Ultimately, both views were correct. The national market for fresh beef was the culmination of a technological revolution, but it was also the result of collusion and predatory pricing. The industrial slaughterhouse was a triumph of human ingenuity as well as a site of brutal labour exploitation. Industrial beef production, with all its troubling costs and undeniable benefits, reflected seemingly contradictory realities.

Beef production would also help drive far-reaching changes in US agriculture. Fresh-fruit distribution began with the rise of the meatpackers’ refrigerator cars, which they rented to fruit and vegetable growers. Production of wheat, perhaps the US’s greatest food crop, bore the meatpackers’ mark. In order to manage animal feed costs, Armour & Co and Swift & Co invested heavily in wheat futures and controlled some of the country’s largest grain elevators. In the early 20th century, an Armour & Co promotional map announced that “the greatness of the United States is founded on agriculture”, and depicted the agricultural products of each US state, many of which moved through Armour facilities.

Beef was a paradigmatic industry for the rise of modern industrial agriculture, or agribusiness. As much as a story of science or technology, modern agriculture is a compromise between the unpredictability of nature and the rationality of capital. This was a lurching, violent process that saw meatpackers displace the risks of blizzards, drought, disease and overproduction on to cattle ranchers. Today’s agricultural system works similarly. In poultry, processors like Perdue and Tyson use an elaborate system of contracts and required equipment and feed purchases to maximise their own profits while displacing risk on to contract farmers. This is true with crop production as well. As with 19th-century meatpacking, relatively small actors conduct the actual growing and production, while companies like Monsanto and Cargill control agricultural inputs and market access.

The transformations that remade beef production between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1906 stretched from the Great Plains to the kitchen table. Before the civil war, cattle raising was largely regional, and in most cases, the people who managed cattle out west were the same people who owned them. Then, in the 1870s and 80s, improved transport, bloody victories over the Plains Indians, and the American west’s integration into global capital markets sparked a ranching boom. Meanwhile, Chicago meatpackers pioneered centralised food processing. Using an innovative system of refrigerator cars and distribution centres, they began to distribute fresh beef nationwide. Millions of cattle were soon passing through Chicago’s slaughterhouses each year. By 1890, the Big Four meatpacking companies – Armour & Co, Swift & Co, Morris & Co and the GH Hammond Co – directly or indirectly controlled the majority of the nation’s beef and pork…

Exploitation and predatory pricing drove the transformation of the US meat industry – and created the model for modern agribusiness: “The price of plenty: how beef changed America.”

* Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

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As we muse on meat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table (though some suspect that Richelieu was acting in self-preservation).  Indeed, years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.

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Written by LW

May 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“To explode or to implode… that is the question”*…

 

From Danish photographer Ken Hermann‘s series, “Explosions“; more mesmerizing mayhem here.

* “To explode or to implode – said Qfwfq – that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to expand one’s energies in space without restraint, or to crush them into a dense inner concentration.”
― Italo Calvino, The Distance of the Moon

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As we reflect on eruption, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table.  Years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.

 source

 

Written by LW

May 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

After only 145 years: overnight success!…

In the “Emerging Authors” section at Target: Anna Karenina, by that young upstart, Leo Tolstoy.  (Readers will note, as well, the inclusion of Julian Barnes and Diane Ackerman…  as for the Jane Austen Marriage Manual, it is presumably by an actual emerging author…)

[TotH to The Consumerist, from whence, the photo]

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As we fulminate on the fragility of fame, we might note that it was on this date in 1635 that Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, established L’Académie Française, the oldest of the five académies of L’Institut de France.   Its forty members– almost exclusively writers who are known, after election, as immortels– are the highest authority on all matters pertaining to the French language… a group to whom Tolstoy might well have been admitted had he not suffered the ignominy of being born elsewhere and writing in a different language; individuals who are not citizens can be admitted, but rarely are.  (The Divine Jane would likely not have fared well even had she been born in France:  the first woman member, Marguerite Yourcenar, wasn’t elected until 1980.)

L’Institut de France building

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Written by LW

January 2, 2013 at 1:01 am

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