Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons

Cows wait to be milked at the Faria Dairy Farm in Escalon, California.

Cows wait to be milked at the Faria Dairy Farm in Escalon, California.

When Democrats introduced a Green New Deal proposal in Congress earlier this year, it caused some beef.

Policymakers behind the plan singled out the agricultural industry as one that needed reform for the sake of curbing climate change. Meanwhile, politicians like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Democrats of “[wanting] to kill all the cows.”

Historian Joshua Specht says “hamburgers are the newest front in the culture wars.” But what’s so political about red meat? How long has it been this way?

According to Specht, the beef industry has always hinged on conflict. Here’s what he wrote about its history in The Guardian:

Beef was a paradigmatic industry for the rise of modern industrial agriculture, or agribusiness. As much as a story of science or technology, modern agriculture is a compromise between the unpredictability of nature and the rationality of capital. This was a lurching, violent process that saw meatpackers displace the risks of blizzards, drought, disease and overproduction on to cattle ranchers. Today’s agricultural system works similarly. In poultry, processors like Perdue and Tyson use an elaborate system of contracts and required equipment and feed purchases to maximise their own profits while displacing risk on to contract farmers. This is true with crop production as well.

We talk with Specht about how America made modern beef, and how beef made America modern.

Show produced by Avery Kleinman. Text by Kathryn Fink.


  • Joshua Specht Author, "Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America"; @joshspecht

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