In the opening section of Chapter 6, Schlosser visits with Hank, a Colorado rancher. Hank gives Schlosser a tour of his ranch, with the intent of showing him the difference between what he does and “raping the land.” Hank takes many precautions in raising cattle, so that the land remains lush and fertile. In contrast, the mass development of Colorado Springs wreaks havoc on the landscape.
The next section of the chapter, “A New Trust,” offers a brief history of the early twentieth century efforts to
break up the Beef Trust, in which five meatpacking companies had a monopoly on the meatpacking industry.
While this trust was effectively busted, allowing ranchers to sell their cattle at competitive prices for a few
decades, the Reagan administration allowed the top four meatpacking companies to combine. These four
companies slaughtered 21% of the nation’s cattle in 1970; today, these companies slaughter 84% of the
nation’s cattle. Seemingly, a new trust has been established. The result is that many ranchers are selling off
their cattle and quitting the business.
“The Breasts of Mr. McDonald” refers to the breed of chicken bred specifically for Chicken McNuggets. This section describes the relationship between chicken processors and chicken growers. Chicken processors, like Tyson Foods, handle every aspect of production except for the seven weeks it takes to raise the chickens— although, the processor closely regulates this period. Chicken growers make little money and usually leave the business after three years. Schlosser returns to the cattle industry for a moment to consider similar difficulties in raising cattle. Ranchers grow larger cattle with hormones but sell fewer cattle in a declining market, cannot sell their cattle to the European Union because the EU has outlawed the bovine growth hormone, and face intimidation from the large meatpacking companies. Specifically in Colorado, ranchers face growing land prices and declining rancher culture.
In the final section of the chapter, Schlosser tells us that Hank has taken his life. Suicide among ranchers is higher than the national average as pressures continue to fill their lives.
Notes - The opening section
of this chapter juxtaposes strikingly different pictures of the Colorado landscape.
On one hand the reader sees “natural,” verdant land, and on the other, the noisy,
dirty development. Schlosser’s description of the encroachment of the “machine”
on the “garden” is a recognizable trope in American literary history (as first
articulated by Leo Marx in his The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the
Pastoral Ideal in America). The anxiety about the fusion between the pastoral
and the progressive expressed in this section is a familiar aspect of American culture. Schlosser’s commentary on the sound of cars racing that violates the
serene ranch, mirrors (intentionally or unintentionally) Marx’s attention to the sound of a train in the
The “A New Trust” section of this chapter is meant to provide background information on trustbusting in America, and to draw parallels between the Beef Trust of the late 19th/ early 20th centuries and the present. The reader should be aware that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was debated both in its time and in more recent years. Notably, Alan Greenspan has criticized the act, stating “No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born.” The entirety of Greenspan’s essay can be read in Any Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (Signet, 1986).
Schlosser’s in-depth discussions of the chicken and beef industries continue the project of exposing what happens behind the scenes in the fast-food industry. Hank, the rancher who begins and ends this chapter, is intended to illustrate how such an expansive industry can devastate a single life.