Wednesday, May 04, 2005

It's The Jungle out there--still

This year marks the centennial of the publication of Upton Sinclair's novel, The Jungle. I own a scarce first edition (with the sustainer's label on the flyleaf). The book is still in print and is one of the top five novels used in history courses in the US. That's good. It's a great soap opera of a book and did much to bring to life the struggles of labor in the early twentieth century.

What's not so good is that the conditions in the meatpacking industry described by Sinclair are still horrendously dangerous. A couple of weeks ago we posted about the (now infamous) "finger in the Wendy's chili" episode. The press is having a field day reporting the woman who found the finger has a "litigious background" and has been charged with Grand Theft. Whether she is guilty or not I have no way of knowing. But I do know the food industry is sufficiently dangerous that a finger could easily find its way into processed food. Here is a case in point.
Customer finds employee's finger in frozen custard

WILMINGTON, North Carolina (AP) -- A man who ordered a pint of frozen chocolate custard in a dessert shop got a nasty surprise inside -- a piece of severed finger lost by an employee in an accident.

Unlike a recent incident at a Wendy's restaurant in California, no questions of truth have been raised about the finger served up to go at Kohl's Frozen Custard and found later at home by Clarence Stowers.

Officials from the state departments of agriculture and labor went to the shop Monday, and the owner confirmed one of his employees lost part of a finger in an accident with a food-processing machine.


Shop owner Craig Thomas said the employee who lost the finger had dropped a bucket while working with a machine that dispenses the custard. He tried to catch the bucket when the accident occurred.

Thomas told [the radio station] that several employees tried to help the injured worker, and that a drive-thru window attendant apparently scooped custard from the bucket into a pint before being told what had happened. (CNN)
The important part of this story isn't about the customer. It's about the worker who lost a finger. In the new centenniel edition of Sinclair's book, just published by Bedford/St. Martin’s, the editor Christopher Phelps points out that when
. . . The Jungle became a bestseller, Sinclair was frustrated that the public furor centered almost exclusively on whether the companies were grinding up rats into sausage or disguising malodorous tinned beef with dyes. These were real concerns, but Sinclair cared most of all about the grinding up of workers.
Yes, thinking of eating a finger tip in your custard is pretty disgusting. It's even more disgusting that a worker lost a finger in an industry that is so dangerous it should be a national scandal.