In Red Meat Republic, Specht has brought to the story of American beef the kind of attention to commodity chains that is becoming increasingly fashionable in history, and for good reason ... Explaining how Americans came to eat so much beef and to pay so little for it turns out to be an especially gargantuan enterprise, which Specht pulls off with aplomb, in accessible and sprightly prose ... Specht’s profoundest contention for readers today is that a consumer-oriented activism, playing on concerns for animals (or even the health of our own bodies), is bound to fail.
What Specht’s book reveals about beef...is that its extraordinary success has always had little to do with its taste and everything to do with its ubiquity, increasing cheapness, and cultural status. Red Meat Republic doesn’t bring the reader up to date with innovations in plant-based beef, but it doesn’t have to. By laying down the political and economic history of beef production and culture in the United States, he demonstrates why the tech-meat industry isn’t spending time, money, or marketing dollars on chicken and goat. Beef is more American than fried chicken, apple pie, and turkey on Thanksgiving. And it has always been political, as Specht chronicles.
Red Meat Republic is clunk[y]—the book started out as Specht’s doctoral dissertation and retains an academic tone. But his examination of the Cattle Kingdom shows how it helped reshape the midwest and south-west as Native Americans were driven off prime range land and boom towns rose to serve the migrating herds and then fell as railroads took over an increasing part of the transportation network ... Specht’s story of how the meatpackers exploited unskilled labour, bankrupted local butchers and seized power from the railroads holds warnings for today.