How vegetable oil came to replace animal fats in the American diet

An excerpt from the book “The Happiness Diet”, via The Atlantic:

“Before highways and before railroads, America conducted her commerce via steamship over water through a system of rivers, canals, and lakes. In the 1800s, Cincinnati was the heart of the developed United States. At the time it was known to the world as Porkopolis. That’s because not so long ago, the most widely consumed meat in this nation was swine.

This was before refrigeration. The biggest enemy of 19th-century butchers was spoilage. Eating cows didn’t make a whole lot of sense: Distributing the meat of a freshly killed 1,500-pound animal before it went bad was difficult without roads and temperature-controlled trains. But pigs are fatty, which makes them excellent for salt curing because they don’t lose flavor.

Cincinnati is on the Ohio River, which flows to the Mississippi River, which leads to the ever-important port of New Orleans. From the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, Porkopolis distributed meat throughout the coastal southern United States. The by-products of pork production meant that the burgeoning metropolis was also home to many tanneries, boot makers, and upholsters. Animal fats were hot commodities, as they were rendered and molded into soap and candles. Breaking down pigs was a highly efficient process known as the disassembly line — an idea that would later be reverse-engineered by Henry Ford to produce automobiles.

A major economic depression in the 1870s caused two important citizens of Porkopolis to join forces in order to cut costs and survive the bear market. They formed a company that would eventually be responsible for the greatest dietary shift in our country’s history. William Procter brought his candle-making business to the states after a fire destroyed his business in England. James Gamble fled Ireland during the Great Potato Famine and became a soap manufacturer. In a twist of fate, the two men happened to marry sisters in Cincinnati. Together, the brothers-in-law formed Procter & Gamble, a soap- and candle-manufacturing operation….”

Read more on The Atlantic.


1 Comment

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One response to “How vegetable oil came to replace animal fats in the American diet

  1. nedlud

    People should read Upton Sinclair. Among others, another being Henry David Thoreau.

    The ‘western world’ (ie., modern civilization) has been doing very bad things for a very long time and always by calling it, p-r-o-g-r-e-s-s.

    An Upton Sinclair quote: ‘Fascism is capitalism plus murder.’


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