Thursday, June 6, 2019

Joshua Specht's "Red Meat Republic"

Joshua Specht teaches American history at Monash University in Australia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Red Meat Republic A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Though ranch life was difficult, it appealed to Updegraff. Differentiating his views from broader attitudes is difficult, but in reply to a letter asking about his eventual return, Updegraff wrote ‘[I] don’t know when I will come home. The longer I stay the longer I want to stay. I think the chances are better here for making money than they are East—I don’t see any prospects for me there, do you?’ Cowboys like Updegraff dreamed of eventually owning their own herds.
Page 99 of Red Meat Republic tells the story of Way Hamlin Updegraff, a young man who moved from a farm in upstate New York to a ranch in New Mexico. During his time on the ranch, his mother becomes anxious for Updegraff’s return. Though his work as a cowboy is difficult and relatively poorly paid, Updegraff is determined to stay. He has become attached to the romance of “cowboy-ing” (to use his phrase). He was not the only young man who felt this way, as can be found in other accounts of ranch work and is even satirized in cowboy songs like “The Disappointed Tenderfoot,” which tells the story of a young man moving west in search of the cowboy life. To fully understand the world of the cowboy requires exploring what their work was like alongside the ideas they held. I take versions of this approach throughout my book.

American rich and poor came to expect cheap and abundant fresh beef during the late nineteenth century. Red Meat Republic explores how that happened. To do so, it traces material changes in American life, from the spread of Plains ranching to the emergence of the “Big Four” Chicago meatpacking firms, as well as the set of myths and self-understandings that closely linked beef with American identity. This includes ideas about ranching that linked cattle-raising to American identity and the ”frontier,” as well as the assumptions about the relationship between red meat and masculinity that meant men of all classes and backgrounds viewed beef consumption as a marker of their success. For Way Hamlin Updegraff, the romance of the cowboy and the reality of life as a cattle-worker both shape his work. Similarly, the material conditions of industrial beef as well as the set of ideas that put it at the center of American identity were key to the development of modern industrial beef production.
Visit Joshua Specht's website.

--Marshal Zeringue