The meat on your dinner table probably didn't come from a happy little cow that lived a wondrous life out on rolling green hills. It probably also wasn't produced by a robot animal killer hired by an evil cabal of monocle-wearing industrialists.
Truth is, the meat industry is complicated, and it's impossible to understand without a whole lot of context. That's where Maureen Ogle comes in. She's a historian and the author of In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History Of Carnivore America.
Ogle's book examines the pipeline that meat takes today from field to table by trying to understand its roots. She starts all the way back in Colonial America, when settlers found so much available land that they were able to raise livestock they could never have afforded in Europe. Meat, Ogle writes, became a status symbol in early America.
Much has been made of the ugly details of the modern meat industry, from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma to various exposes and articles on slaughterhouses. The industry's roots, though, stretch back more than a century, when Americans left their farms for the big cities, leaving a vast urban population with a cash income and a hankering for meat.
"As more people moved to cities, the gap between the amount of livestock and meat that could be produced constantly lagged the demand on the part of consumers," Ogle told me in a recent interview.
Ogle ties the rise of gigantic meat companies and industrial meatpacking facilities not to post-World War II subsidies and corporate takeovers, but to the rise of cities. Those urbanites wanted meat — and they wanted it cheap.
"As a result, farmers, and urban voters, and the USDA, and politicians all agreed that farming in the United States needed to be much more efficient and needed to run more like a factory than what many people think a farm should be like," Ogle says. All "in order to reduce farmers' production costs and therefore, keep the cost of food down."
The demand for vast quantities of meat at cheap prices led to meat producers pushing for efficiency and squeezing every bit of profit from every animal. That meant the rise of giant feedlots fattening animals on corn feed, and huge meatpackers processing animals at factory speed and scale. The industrial meat system, Ogle argues, is a supply and demand problem.
"As long as the demand is there, we're going to continue to have these very large industrial systems, because that's the only way to satisfy demand," Ogle says. "You're not going to satisfy demand with small farmers."
It's that kind of thinking that has opened Ogle up to frequent criticism on social media since the book was published on Nov. 12. In the introduction to the book, Ogle writes, "The battles over production and consumption of meat are nearly as ferocious as those over gays, gun control and marriage." Now, Ogle is in the middle of vicious debates on the efficacy of the way meat is raised and processed. (Check the comments under recent interviews with WNYC's "The Takeaway" and Salon.)
Ogle has been charged with being a shill for big industry and has been accused of being anti-small farmer. But the book doesn't shy away from the realities of the modern meatpacking industry and presents it in realistic detail. And she says she doesn't want to pick a side, but merely present a nuanced look at an important issue that has been turned into political soundbites.
Ultimately, Ogle finds there is a fundamental disconnect in the way many of us view meat. We want it, want it cheaply, we want it made in a place where we don't have to deal with the sights and sounds of slaughtering animals and we don't want it to come from factory farms. Something, Ogle says, has to give.
Their paths repeatedly crossed on the way to the World Series. And now retired managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox are headed to the same place: the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall's Expansion Era committee announced their selection Monday.
Together, the trio won eight World Series titles and led teams that were perennial threats to play in October. They account for a combined 7,558 victories.
"Cox, La Russa and Torre were each named on all of the 16 electors' ballots," according to a statement from the Hall of Fame, "easily clearing the 75-percent level necessary for election."
The three praised one another on Monday, at a ceremony in which they donned Hall of Fame jerseys and caps.
"Managing against them, you certainly learned things," Torre said, according to the AP. "I am honored to go into the Hall with these two guys."
La Russa said, "Joe taught a lot of us about how to win the right way and lose the right way."
Here's how the Hall summarized the three managers' resumes:
"Cox skippered the Braves and Blue Jays for 29 seasons, leading his teams to 15 first-place finishes. From 1991-2005, Cox led the Braves to 14 straight seasons where they finished in playoff position. The Braves won five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series under Cox, who finished with 2,504 victories - the fourth-best total of all time. He won the [Baseball Writers Association of America's] Manager of the Year Award four times.
"La Russa managed the White Sox, A's and Cardinals for 33 seasons, winning 2,728 games - the third-highest total of all time behind Hall of Famers Connie Mack and John McGraw. He led his teams to 12 first-place finishes, six pennants and three World Series titles - one with the A's (1989) and two with the Cardinals (2006 and 2011). His teams won 100-or-more games four times and he was named the BBWAA's Manager of the Year in his league four times.
"Torre led the Yankees to six AL pennants and four World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000) in his 12 seasons in New York, and also managed the Mets, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers - winning one division title with Atlanta and two with Los Angeles. His 2,326 wins in 29 seasons rank fifth on the all-time list, and Torre was twice named Manager of the Year by the BBWAA (1996, 1998). In his final 15 seasons as a manager, Torre led his clubs to the postseason 14 times. Torre also spent 18 seasons as a big league catcher/third baseman, earning nine All-Star Game selections and winning the 1971 NL Most Valuable Player Award."
When the three are officially inducted next summer, Cox is expected to stand alongside two players who helped make his run of championship seasons possible: pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who are both coming up for election to the Hall of Fame for the first time.
"It would be quite an honor to go in with those two guys," Cox said. "I just hope Glav and Mad Dog can be on the stage with me. That would be the final finishing touch, going in with those two."
The 16-member Expansion Era committee that endorsed the three managers included former pitcher Phil Niekro, who played for both Cox and Torre and was once a teammate of La Russa's.
Calling them "three kings of managing," Niekro said, "When I think of these guys I think of respect. By their players, by their fans, their organization."
"They're men of integrity and character and I was honored and privileged to play for these guys," he added.
Retired players who are elected into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 8. The induction ceremony will be held on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In the committee's Sunday session, several others who had long histories in baseball didn't receive more than six votes. They include late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late baseball union leader Marvin Miller, along with Billy Martin, Dave Parker, and Tommy John.