Comparison Essay on Foods in During the Progressive Era to Today

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The Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906 under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and was the first of its kind in the gradual process of enactment of consumer rights and protection laws. Long before the first legitimate interventions of the government in consumer industries, companies had free reign on everything they produced and how they produced it. Their corporate interests superseded the wants, needs, health, and welfare of the consumer base well into every consumer industry from meats and liquors to drugs and medicines. Thus was born, the necessity for regulation and overseeing from the federal level. Enter FDA.

The preceding elements and ideals of the substance of the act seem to have picked up steam exponentially within the wide frame of time, before the progressive era. Argued upon grounds ranging from morality to general health naturally; the eventual demand for pure consumer goods was true to the times, progressive. A concern of Congress since the 1840s, it wasn’t until these such times in the relatively early days of the progressive era that both officials and the populace began to take significant notice. By then, however, there were unprecedented accounts/cases of ailments and fatalities as a product of tainted goods. Fueled by the desire for change, Upton Sinclair went on to publish “The Jungle”, which served as the final domino in the fight for pure foods and medicines; informing the lower masses of the transgressions of the relative meat packing industry in such a way whereby past muckraker journalists had failed. An example of his fine and guttural eloquence is as follows;

“- preventable diseases kill off half our population. And even if science were allowed to try, it could do little, because the majority of human beings are not yet human beings at all, but simply machines for the creating of wealth for others. They are penned up in filthy houses and left to rot and stew in misery, and the conditions of their life make them ill faster than all the doctors in the world could heal them; and so, of course, they remain as centers of contagion, poisoning the lives of all of us, and making happiness impossible for even the most selfish. For this reason, I would seriously maintain that all the medical and surgical discoveries that science can make in the future will be of less importance than the application of the knowledge we already possess when the disinherited of the earth have established their right to human existence.”[footnoteRef:0] [0: ]

Lest us forget a more notorious quote, describing the grotesque reality of sanitation failure, or lack thereof, in the plants;

“This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one-- there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there.”

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Upon arrival and thereafter throughout, Sinclair’s publication triggers public outrage (directed toward the subject matter, meat packing plants), in turn, substantial enough to garner the now-full attention of Congress to act in the name and the welfare of the people. Finally. In the motions of the act, yet to be set into law by President Roosevelt; Representative James Mann of Illinois delivers a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 21, 1906; a testament to his dismay with the consumer goods industries. A portion of the speech is as follows;

“I have here . . . several adulterated articles. Here is a bottle of cherries, originally picked green, so that they might be firm, with the green color all taken out with acid until they were perfectly white, and then colored with an aniline dye which is poisonous in any quantity.”

Representative James Mann’s speech left a strong impression on his peers and was deemed a leading proponent of the act by many reporters and outlets.

The Food and Drug Act came into action not too long after, thence laying the foundations for the FDA -- the primary consumer protection agency in the U.S. Although bribery and other forms of corruption are ever prevalent (as always), the FDA remains a government entity and thus, just a tad bit less likely to be completely bought out, as is the fate that befalls privatized third-party agencies doing federal standard work. Nonetheless, the act serves as a bastion in itself, perhaps unappreciated now in today’s sociocultural plane; though ever prevalent in overarching influence on how society’s consumer goods come to be. The Food and Drug Act in itself has been a developing system of superimposed processes and regulations relative to the dynamic nature of society, thus consumer goods; deriving from the initial accuracy-based (morally right and all, y’know) labeling system and sprawling well into the systematic banning of thousands of practices and additives (unless of course you’re rich and line some pockets).

Historically relative to the U.S., acts and amendments of this nature typically stem from noble intentions and with necessary reform in mind, however, the substance of these legal and de jure constructs are equally as malleable to the will of negative intent and corruption such as (classic) corporate interests, profit insurance, and in this case; possibly social culling. Good old Darwinian ambition runs amok. Regardless, however, we all yet live, save for the fluoride in our brains, heavy metals in our vaccines, goitrogens in our fruits, and pesticides in our vegetables.

It beats rat-infused beef.

Bibliography List:

  • Sinclair, Uptown. The Jungle. Pg 162. Grosset & Dunlap, 1999.
  • Sinclair, Uptown. The Jungle. Pg 410. Grosset & Dunlap, 1999
  • “The Pure Food and Drug Act.” U.S. Capitol Visitor Center,
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