Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
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NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
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Photo: 10wallpaper.com


Before the Chicago slaughterhouse, Midwestern cattle in the 19th century had to be driven under their own power, losing weight along the way. They began to transport cattle by rail – the death rate increased on the way.

What to do?

The answer is a little later.




A predator can be distinguished from a herbivore without even looking at what he eats for breakfast. In herbivores, the intestines are 15–20 times longer than their own height – plant food is more difficult and takes longer to digest. And in predators, it is only 3-5 times longer than the body – it is enough to digest meat.

And who are we humans – predators or herbivores? Neither one nor the other – our intestines are 10-12 times longer than the body – the middle is half. Indeed, we can eat both meat and plant foods – everything seems to fit together … But is it necessary to prefer something, what would be better and more correct to eat?

Vegetarians know the answer to this question, but they cannot convince others of it. Now it is hard to deny that many vegetarians live to a ripe old age – there are plenty of examples. But whether such a diet is useful for children is still being debated: most likely, not always.

But one fact is difficult to dispute – primitive hunters and gatherers were quite few in number, but with the development of agriculture, the human race began to grow quite rapidly and create civilizations. Do they really get stupid from meat and so noticeable smarter from bread?

In any case, there is one thing in which grain is far superior to meat – it is much better stored. The harvested wheat crop feeds the family for a year without spoiling at all, and the hunters who killed the mammoth ate an incredible amount of mammoth with amazing speed, because they knew from their own experience that if the meat lay for a long time, they could get poisoned and die.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Mammoth hunters




Since animal husbandry appeared not very later than agriculture and developed quite successfully, it is clear that they learned how to solve the problem of meat preservation. The first and simplest way to do this was not to kill those domestic animals that you could not eat immediately.

If you breed ducks, chickens, even geese or cranes, which were domesticated in ancient Egypt, the problem is solved – there is not so much meat that you can’t quickly cope with it. And what to do when you slaughter a fattened bull or hunt a sacred but delicious hippopotamus? Organize a feast…

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Ancient Egyptian house cranes

But the success of animal husbandry persistently pushed for the search for alternative solutions. Interestingly, they did not appear immediately – most likely, already in historical time, a few more than a thousand years ago. There is no exact information about their occurrence – only legends remain.

The Finns, for example, are crediting the new revolutionary way of preserving meat to themselves. Their legend tells how the hunters decided to comb the forest after the fire, finding half-burned carcasses of dead animals there. What if you count them just wrong fried?

So did the hunter with the typical Finnish name Suomenen – the smell of one of the carcasses seemed to him not so unpleasant. He took it with him and hung it near the fire – after a while the smell became even better. Then he cut off a piece, held it over the fire for several hours and decided to try it. The results pleasantly surprised him, and as a result, smoking arose.




Most likely, this is a legend – it hurts so much like other legends. And smoking meat arose almost simultaneously among different peoples: not only among the Finns, but also among the Gauls, Slavs, Greeks and Romans. They probably had their own legends on this subject, but they did not reach us …

After some time, they learned to smoke not only meat, but also fish, and more recently, literally several centuries ago, they extended this process to sausages, cheeses and even vegetables. Cold smoking appeared – for a long time, but at a low temperature, and hot – everything is the opposite there.

However, smoking did not remain the only technology for extending the life of meat for long. Quite early they learned to dry the meat, cutting it into strips and hanging it in the air. Dried at a temperature of about 40 degrees, when the proteins are not yet denatured, was somewhat different from drying.

The American Indians knew how to cook dried meat. They improved the technology of its storage by inventing pemmican – chopped dried or dried bison meat flavored with sour berry juice. They even made pemmican for dogs – from the meat of seals or whales.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?

The great polar expeditions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would not have been possible without pemmican. Roald Amundsen, for example, used the Norwegian pemmican for the army – with oatmeal and dried vegetables. Jules Verne also wrote about the pemmican in The Adventures of Captain Hatteras.




People quickly figured out that salt can prevent meat from spoiling. The process turned out to be simple and very suitable for high production volumes. We cut the meat into pieces, put it in barrels and fill it with a strong enough brine – that’s all there is to it.

For centuries, corned beef has been practically the main food of sailors of all major fleets of the world – primarily the British. However, 5,700 pounds of corned beef were loaded onto Magellan’s ships – this is an old invention. But the sailors were by no means satisfied with the corned beef.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Corned beef in a barrel

Few people were pleased with its taste – especially considering that there was clearly not enough water for soaking it in swimming. In addition, it often deteriorated and became completely inedible. This is not to mention that the marine diet almost inevitably led to scurvy, and they began to treat it with lemons and sauerkraut only at the end of the 18th century – up to half of the team died for swimming.

Much better results were obtained by the technology invented by the Spaniards – dry salting of the ham, and then its long-term drying: from six months to three years. The resulting product is called jamon (in Spanish it is simply the word “thigh, pork leg”) and is rightly considered a delicacy all over the world.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?

Similar things began to be cooked in Italy (prosciutto, Parma ham) and in the Balkans. But, firstly, it is expensive, as it should be for a delicacy, and, secondly, it is obtained only in a dry Mediterranean climate, where even milk does not turn sour – there are few bacteria in the air.

So the problem of preserving meat was not really solved. This is not to mention the fact that the above methods turned it into a completely different dish – sometimes it tastes good, but always the same. Attempts to save the steak still failed.


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Since the beginning of the 19th century, the problem has only worsened. The endless steppes of Argentina were filled with huge herds of cows – but they were bred solely for the sake of skins: the meat simply had nowhere to go, and it rotted! In Argentina, then they said that the poor differ from the rich in that they eat boiled beef, and the rich eat fried beef: oil was expensive, and meat was almost for nothing.

In North America it was about the same story. Cowboys quarreled with farmers, but nevertheless herded huge herds of the famous long-horned Texas cows. The only trouble was that the masses of meat consumers who would have bought it with pleasure lived hundreds and thousands of kilometers to the east, and it was a problem to deliver this meat to them.

In 1811, the Frenchman Nicolas François Appert took an important step towards solving this problem – he invented canned food. But with all their merits, it was also a different dish, completely unlike fresh meat. Yes, and their production had to be deployed.

In the meantime, the main method of delivering farmed beef to the insatiable Atlantic coast has remained the driving of herds of cattle – let them stomp their own legs to the slaughter. It was long, expensive, the cattle lost their weight on the way, sometimes they died before they reached it – losses!




Since childhood, Gustavus Franklin Swift, born in 1839, was involved in the meat business, the ninth of twelve children of a farmer who breeds cows, sheep and pigs for sale. As befits a boy from a decent family, he went to school, but after the eighth grade he finished his studying.

He was clearly not interested in abstract sciences, but in practice – already at the age of 14 he began working for his older brother, a village butcher. Having saved up for his first cow, he raised it, slaughtered, butchered and sold the meat, offering it from house to house. So he started his own business.

Already at the age of twenty, Gustavus, having borrowed 400 dollars from his uncle, bought and overtook a herd of cattle for a ten-day journey. At the same time, he made sure that on the last miles of the journey the cattle were not allowed to drink – but before surrendering to the slaughter, they drank really a lot and their weight was amazing.

Soon after such a cunning move, he was able to buy a small butcher’s shop and a slaughterhouse, becoming quite a serious meat dealer. His company moved over the years: first to Brighton near Boston, then to Buffalo, and then to Chicago – closer to the huge herds and slaughterhouses.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Gustavus Franklin Swift




Chicago is not only slaughterhouses. It is also a rapidly growing major railway junction. Kansas City, closer to the rich pastures of the Midwest, also has a railroad. Is it possible to solve the transport problem of cattle traders with its help? Let the bulls ride…

It turned out that it somehow helps, but such a solution cannot be called perfect. On the way to the railway car, the cattle loses weight and does not always survive this path – and in the car it’s the same: both weight loss and death. This is not to mention the fact that 60% of the mass transported by trains is not needed by anyone – this is not meat that can be sold, but how to dispose of it is still unclear.

Meanwhile, the Chicago slaughterhouse grew, demanded more and more raw materials and horrified impressionable people, including writers. Let’s say Korolenko, after inspecting the slaughterhouse, was horrified and supplied a letter to his wife with his impressions with a postscript – “Children should not read.”

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Chicago slaughter

If it were not for cattle, but for already cut meat, the savings would be huge. But how to do that? The train is a vehicle not fast enough for the meat not to spoil. They say that in the cold winter it was possible to bring the meat. From this place in more detail …




Of course, you need to transport meat all year round, but refrigerators have not been invented yet. Why not to chill with ice?

Next to Chicago is the Great Lakes, where this ice is piled up in the winter, and it can be prepared for the summer …
Is this really the solution?




In fact, they tried to transport already butchered beef in boxcars equipped with ice bins as early as 1857. But for better cooling, the meat was placed directly on ice, which discolored it and worsened its taste, so the method did not work.

Soon William Davis patented his refrigerator, in which carcasses were hung over a frozen mixture of ice and salt on metal racks. But the carcasses began to sway when the transport entered the turn, and after several derailments of the cars, this idea was dropped.

To solve these problems, Swift hired engineer Andrew Chase, who designed a better refrigerated car – ventilated, well-insulated, with an ice box at the top of the car, and meat closer to the bottom of the car to be stable.

Swift offered the new refrigerator to the major railroads, but they refused – a lot of money had already been invested in the construction of cattle cars, and they did not want to lose this investment. But Swift built the cars himself and found a railroad willing to test them.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to save on transportation of meat?
Refrigerated wagon




Swift’s idea turned out to be successful – within three years he owned 200 such refrigerated cars, and every week they transported more than 3,000 meat carcasses. The total tonnage of transportation was reduced by almost half, but the meat was transported as much as before.

Even by the standards of his time, Swift was a staunch proponent (and practitioner) of vertical integration: he bought the rights to harvest ice on the Great Lakes, as well as to ice storage along the railroads, which ensured the replenishment of wagons with ice.

Swift did not disregard the waste, which now did not have to be transported across the country – he came up with methods for using it. He used low-grade meat for canning with beans, made combs, buttons and knife handles from horns and bones, produced soap, glue, margarine and even pharmaceuticals – pepsin and insulin.

Quickly getting rich, Swift spent a lot on charity: he donated a lot of money to the University of Chicago, founded the School of Oratory at Northwestern University in memory of his daughter who died early. When he died in 1903, he had 21,000 employees.




It is not enough to obtain food – it must be preserved, prepared and brought to the consumer. When at least one link falls out of this chain, trouble begins.

The Finns came up with a beautiful legend about how people learned to smoke meat. Is it right? You know, it doesn’t matter at all! There is no direct untruth there, and the legends that have already appeared begin to live their own lives.

There are a lot of ways to increase the shelf life of meat: salting, smoking, drying, curing … Some of the products obtained are even very tasty, but they still cannot replace fresh meat. Not to mention that some of them are not useful to everyone.

Having done almost everything, Gustavus Franklin Swift faced the shortsightedness of the railroad owners – they did not understand that the cattle cars, in which they had invested a lot of money, would still not withstand the competition. Inertia is a serious brake on progress.

Why did Swift take up the recycling of meat production waste? It turns out that even then there were people who said that the clogging of nature with waste is an absolute evil. Sometimes they are naive, sometimes annoying, but it turns out that it is impossible not to listen to them.


All illustrations from open sources

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