Slate’s Sara Dickerman takes readers on a fascinating and surprisingly diverting trip from the pasture to the slaughterhouse, summing up the history of steak in particular and the industrial meat production process in general.
The piece revolves around two interesting (if disturbing-sounding) books: Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse edited by Paula Young Lee, and Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Andrew Rimas and Evan Fraser.
Dickerman, in one paragraph, sweeps us from the era of butcher-processed animals to the slaughterhouse: “Before the modern era, cattle were generally killed by the very butcher who would sell you your meat. Centralized slaughterhouses emerged first in post-revolutionary France. In 1807, Napoleon himself ordered four central slaughterhouses built to get the messy business out of Paris’ streets. Not only was the act of slaughter consolidated in (or at the outskirts of) large cities, but it was also concealed in plain sight, with purposely forgettable architecture. It became easier and easier to avoid reflecting on how many animals need to be killed in order to feed a metropolis.”
This, and the conditions under which modern slaughterhouses tend to operate, are not pleasant things to contemplate. That doesn’t make the effort any less imperative.