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NONACADEMIC WRITING

Through their writings, many nonacademics succeed in calling public attention to a particular problem or social condition. There is a long list of those whose literary efforts stimulated changes in the law. For our purposes, it will suffice to call attention to some such distinguished ventures.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, there was a fair amount of concern in the United States about the quality of food products. In particular, numerous scandals had arisen over the quality of meat products. It was alleged that during the Spanish-American War, American soldiers were forced to eat cans of “embalmed beef" A number of horrible practices of manufacturers were revealed in the mass media, but a federal food and drug law had still not passed when, in 1906, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, a novel about life in Chicago, centering on the stockyards.

The first half of the book provided a vivid description of conditions in the Chicago meatpacking plants. To illustrate:

Tubercular pork was sold for human consumption. Old sausage, rejected in Europe and shipped back "mouldy and white," would be "dosed with borax and glycerin, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption." Meat was stored in rooms where "water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it." The packers would put out poisoned bread to kill the rats; then the rats would die, and "rats, bread and meat would go into the hoppers together." Most horrifying of all was the description of the men in the "cooking rooms." They "worked in tankrooms full of steam," in some of which there were "open vats near the level of the floor." Sometimes they fell into the vats "and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting—sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard."

(Quoted by Friedman and Macaulay, 1977:611-612)

Sinclair’s book created an immediate furor. A copy was sent to President Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed two investigators whose report confirmed Sinclair’s findings.

It is hard to say to what extent Sinclair’s book provided an impetus for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906, but it is indisputable that it played an important role in it.

Rachel Carson’s (1962) classic book, Silent Spring, had a similar impact by bringing the dangers of pesticides to public attention. Other books that have called attention to environmental dangers include Richard Falk’s This Endangered Planet (1971), Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet (1948), and Moment in the Sun by R. Reinow and L. T. Reinow (1967).

Even a short list of influential authors would be incomplete without a reference to Ralph Nader. He was an unknown young lawyer at the time he published his book, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965), which alerted the public to the automobile industry’s unconcern for safety in the design and construction of American cars. This book is a model of the kind of muckraking journalism that, at times, initiates the rise of public concern over a given issue. As a result of his book, and General Motors’ reaction to it, Nader became front-page news, and his charges took on new weight. More than anyone else, he has contributed to and provided the impetus for the passing of a substantial number of auto safety provisions. Since 1966, Nader

has been responsible almost entirely through his efforts for the passage of seven major consumer-related laws—the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (1966), Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act (1968), Wholesale Meat Act (1967), Radiation Control Act (1968), Wholesale Poultry Products Act (1967), Coal Mine Health and Safety Act (1969), and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (1970).

(Buckhorn, 1972)

 
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