Chapter 5: Annihilating Space: Meat

This chapter proved to be very interesting to me. I have done a little bit of research on the meat markets in Chicago in the past because, being as I am from Chicago the history of the city is very interesting to me. This chapter really brought to life the gruesome practices that these meat packers used in order to make money.

The first thing that I found interesting was the rapid decrease of bison in this region. It seemed as though they were at times killing them off for no reason, which I find hard to understand. The book states that after the Civil War, “the railroads drove a knife into the heart of buffalo country.” Cronon goes on to say that sport hunters would basically just open the train car doors and shoot buffalo and leave them there for dead. This is hard for me to comprehend as I do not get the point of just shooting something and then leaving it there. It seems to me that it would be much more practical to use something if you are going to kill it. Later in 1870, it proved to be disastrous for the buffalo as people figured out how to turn the hides of bison into leather. This ultimately completely wiped out the bison population.

The next part of this chapter was especially interesting to me because it helped illustrate how Chicago, similar to their success with grain, became one of the forefront cities for meat packaging and shipping. I have always heard about the gruesome things that went on in the Chicago slaughter houses during this time, but this chapter really solidified these horrors. Some of the practices they used, such as sewing the eyes shut of cattle so that they would not freak out seems barbaric to me. I can not understand why someone would do such a gruesome thing for profit. It seems to me that although it was ultimately a huge success for the city, that there was certain things that were done that were so awful, that people must have had these things on their conscience. People showed no shame or despair in killing these creatures for profit, and still to this day it seems that this trade is one that these people show no remorse.

Chicago has become one of the greatest cities in the world, but in my opinion the road it took to get there is a gruesome and one that should not be admired. Reading the accounts portrayed in this chapter, show the gruesome reality of what went on in the Chicago slaughterhouses and how it all came to be. With the invention of the refrigerated train car, people were able to ship meat further distances, and in turn create more profit for themselves. As meat became the main source of income for the city of Chicago, the gruesome practices continued and increased, and even more than before, solidified Chicago as the prized “Porkopolis.”

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