Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

So this story is kind of repulsive and certainly won't make you crave a juicy hamburger or steak, but it's a part of food history so here goes:

On June 30, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act which provided for federal inspection of meat products and prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated food products. The Acts arose in part due to articles and exposés written by muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, whose popular 1906 novel The Jungle contains hair-raising descriptions of the ways in which meat was produced in Chicago slaughterhouses and stockyards.

Sinclair described how dead rats, putrid meat, and poisoned rat bait were routinely shoveled into sausage-grinding machines, how bribed inspectors turned a blind eye when diseased cows were slaughtered for beef, and how filth and guts were swept off the floor and then packaged and sold as “potted ham.”

Muckraker, of course, is a term that is applied to those novelists and journalists who sought to expose the corruption of American business and politics in the early twentieth century. It was President Roosevelt who first coined the term in a 1906 speech in which he compared writers like Sinclair to the “Man with the Muck-rake” (a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) who was so focused on "raking the filth at his feet” that he failed to look up and “behold the celestial crown.”

Similarly, Roosevelt argued that Sinclair and other muckrakers were so focused on the evils of American society that they failed to "behold the vision of America's promise.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

James Monroe, the Erie Canal, and "I Eat My Meals with Sal Each Day"

So did you know that during James Monroe’s presidency, many canals were built, mostly in the northeastern states? One of the most famous was the Erie Canal. Originally, it was forty feet wide, four feet deep, and 363 miles long, and stretched from Albany (on the upper Hudson River) to Buffalo (on the eastern shore of Lake Erie).

Teams of horses and mules trotted alongside the canal on a dirt road, called a "tow path," and pulled along flat-bottomed barges and boats called "packets". The opening of the canal in 1825 triggered the first major western migration in the United States, as countless thousands of pioneers and farmers rushed to the fertile lands of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and beyond.

Soon, settlers in the Midwest were shipping cargoes of wheat, corn and other foodstuffs to the big cities of the Northeast. On the return trip, farming supplies and other manufactured goods were shipped west. Realizing the great fortunes to be made from shipping the raw materials of the west to the big cities of the east, Americans embarked upon a “canal-building craze" that lasted until the rise of the railroads.

Historians say that the Erie Canal was the transportation marvel of its day. It reduced travel time from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes by more than a half and provided travelers with "a welcome alternative to the rutted, muddy road of the stage coach." In 1836, Thomas S. Woodcock made the trip from Schenectady, New York to Buffalo and described the abudance of food and other luxuries of life provided on a packet:

These boats are about 70 feet long, and with the exception of the Kitchen and bar, is occupied as a Cabin. The forward part being the ladies' Cabin, is separated by a curtain, but at meal times this obstruction is removed, and the table is set the whole length of the boat. The table is supplied with every thing that is necessary and of the best quality with many of the luxuries of life...

The Bridges on the Canal are very low, particularly the old ones. Indeed they are so low as to scarcely allow the baggage to clear, and in some cases actually rubbing against it. Every Bridge makes us bend double if seated on anything, and in many cases you have to lie on your back.

The Man at the helm gives the word to the passengers: 'Bridge,' 'very low Bridge,' 'the lowest in the Canal,' as the case may be. Some serious accidents have happened for want of caution. A young English Woman met with her death a short time since, she having fallen asleep with her head upon a box, had her head crushed to pieces. Such things however do not often occur, and in general it affords amusement to the passengers who soon imitate the cry, and vary it with a command, such as 'All Jackson men bow down.' After such commands we find few aristocrats.

Sadly nostalgic, the classic American folk song "Low Bridge” recalls the years from 1825 to 1880 when mule barges on the Erie Canal "made boomtowns out of Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, and transformed New York into the Empire State." Maybe you remember the lyrics:

I've got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We've hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And we know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal…

Don't have to call when I want my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She trots from her stall like a good old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I eat my meals with Sal each day
I eat beef and she eats hay
And she ain't so slow if you want to know
She put the "Buff" in Buffalo…

Today, this classic old tune is part of American folk history and has been recorded by such popular folk singers as Pete Seeger and The Kingston Trio. Bruce Springsteen also recorded the tune on his 2006 album, "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions."

A LITTLE BACKGROUND: Shortly after taking office in 1817, James Monroe vetoed a bill to provide federal funds to build the Erie Canal. Like Jefferson and Madison, Monroe encouraged an American system of internal improvements to help the nation grow, but didn't believe that the federal government had the authority under the Constitution to use federal monies to fund state projects like the Erie Canal.

FAST FACT: Ten years after the Erie Canal opened, New York was the busiest port in the nation, moving more agricultural and industrial goods than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Franklin Pierce, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and a Hard-Boiled Egg

In 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which outraged many northerners who believed he was supporting slavery in the new southwestern territories and old southern states. Politically disgraced, Pierce became the first president to hire a bodyguard after having been attacked by a detractor with a hard-boiled egg!

Although no one knows who threw an egg at Pierce (or if that, in fact, actually happened), we do know that human beings have been eating eggs for thousands of years. In addition to eggs from chickens, people eat eggs from turkeys, ducks, pelicans, quails, partridges, ostriches, geese, and pigeons. Turtle eggs have been delicacies in some cultures for centuries, and, in some places, people eat alligator eggs at breakfast!

Why eggs at breakfast? Food historians say that this practice dates back to those days when many people raised their own chickens and had a constant supply of fresh eggs. Eggs are usually collected early in the morning and “the fresher the egg, the better it tastes.” Eating eggs in the morning also made sense in the days before refrigeration because fewer eggs had to be stored and so fewer eggs would break or spoil. Of course, eating eggs is a great way to start your day because they are a rich source of protein and energy!

So without further ado, let me leave you with this quick and delicious recipe for Sunny Side Up Grilled Egg Sandwiches from Mr. Breakfast

8 slices of whole wheat bread
4 eggs
4-8 slices of cheese (to taste)
4 slices of ham
dehydrated onions
salt and pepper

Melt butter on the grill. Fry eggs sunny side up and then flip and break the yolk, frying until yolk is completely dry. Fry ham on the grill. Layer egg, ham, onion, salt, pepper and cheese on slice of wheat bread and put another slice on top to make a sandwich. Melt more butter on the grill and fry the sandwich on both side until the bread is lightly browned and the cheese is melted. Serve warm.

FAST FACT: The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, and allowed settlers in those territories to determine (vis-a-vis the concept of popular sovereignty) whether they would allow slavery within their boundaries. The Act triggered many violent conflicts between abolitionists and slaveholders and moved the nation ever closer to civil war.