The Jungle is a novel. But hardly anybody remembers that it’s a book of fiction, not fact.
When muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, the book’s purple prose, ethnic stereotypes, and shockmongering produced an uproar: Can the slaughterhouses and meatpacking industry of Chicago really be as vile as this? Yes, it could. And it was. (And, in many ways, still is.)
The Jungle helped speed the passage that same year of the Pure Food and Drug Act, the first significant piece of federal legislation regulating our food system. To read The Jungle now is to be reminded both of how far and how close we still are to the cesspits of Chicago a century ago.
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