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Fast-Food Nation Part Two: Meat and Potatoes

From slaughterhouse to Styrofoam, the dark side of the American diet

Ground beef and french fries

Ground beef, french fries.

Eric Anthony Johnson/Getty Images; Kenneth Wiedemann/Getty Images

A generation ago, three – quarters of the meals consumed in the United States were made at home. Today, most of the meals that Americans eat are prepared outside the home, mainly at fast-food restaurants. The rise of the fast-food industry has changed not only what Americans eat but also how their meals are made – at every step, from the farm to the ovens in a commercial kitchen. Aside from the salad greens, tomatoes and some toppings, most fast food arrives at the restaurant frozen, canned, dehydrated or freeze-dried. A fast-food kitchen is merely the final stage in a vast system of mass production. America’s favorite foods, like its automobiles and television sets, are now manufactured by computerized, highly automated machines.

Read The First Part of Fast-Food Nation

In much the same way that the fast-food industry changed the nation’s retail economy, eliminating small businesses, encouraging the spread of chains and uniformity, fast food has transformed American agriculture. The centralized purchasing decisions of large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products have given a handful of multinational corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply. During the 1980s, while the virtues of the free market were being proclaimed, giant agribusiness companies – such as Cargill, ConAgra and IBP – gained control of one agricultural market after another. The concentration of power in the food-processing industry has driven down the prices offered to American farmers. In 1980, about thirty-seven cents of every consumer dollar spent on food went to the farmer. Today, only twenty three cents goes to the farmer – a decline of forty percent. Family farms are now being replaced by gigantic corporate farms with absentee owners. Rural communities are losing their middle class and becoming socially stratified, divided among a small wealthy elite and large numbers of the working poor. The hardy, independent farmers whom Thomas Jefferson considered the bedrock of democracy are truly a vanishing breed. The United States now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers.

In the potato fields and processing plants of Idaho, in the ranch lands of Colorado, in the feedlots and slaughterhouses of the high plains, you can see the effects of fast food on the nation’s rural life, its environment, its workers – and its health. Farmers and ranchers, the icons of the American West, are losing their independence, essentially becoming hired hands for the giant multinationals, or being forced off the land entirely. Recent changes in the beef industry have made meatpacking the most dangerous job in the United States and have introduced a deadly pathogen, E. coli O157:H7, into hamburger meat, a food mass-marketed to children. And the values, the culture and the industrial arrangements of our fast-food nation are more and more being exported to the rest of the world.

A hamburger and french fries are an inexpensive, convenient meal. But the real cost of America’s love affair with fast food is not always reflected in the price on the menu. After all, you are what you eat.

Mr. Spud

To reach the J.R. Simplot plant in Aberdeen, Idaho, you drive through downtown Aberdeen (population 1,400), past the modest shops on Main Street. Then turn right at the Tiger Hut, a hamburger stand named for the local high school football team, cross the railroad tracks where the freight cars are loaded with sugar beets, drive about a quarter of a mile and you’re there. It smells like someone is cooking potatoes. The Simplot plant is low and square, clean and neat, with a big American flag flying out front. Steam rises from a narrow chimney on the roof. Aberdeen sits in the heart of Bingham County, which grows more potatoes than any other county in the United States; the Simplot plant runs twenty-four hours a day, 310 days a year, turning potatoes into french fries. It’s a small facility by industry standards, built in the late 1950s. It processes about a half-million pounds of potatoes a day.

Inside the building, a maze of red conveyor belts crisscrosses in and out of machines that wash, sort, peel, slice, blanch, blow-dry, fry and flash freeze potatoes. Workers in white coats and hard hats keep everything running smoothly, monitoring the controls, checking the fries for imperfections. The place has a cheery, Eisenhower-era feelings, as though a fantasy of technological progress, of better living through frozen food, has come to life. Looming over the whole enterprise is the spirit of one man: John Richard Simplot, America’s great potato baron, whose willingness to take risks and seemingly inexhaustible energy built an empire based on french fries. In many ways, Simplot embodies the contradictory traits that have guided the development of the American West, an odd mix of rugged individualism and dependence on public land and resources. In a portrait that hangs above the reception desk at the Aberdeen plant, J.R. Simplot has the sly grin of a gambler who has scored big.

Simplot was born in 1909. His family left Dubuque, Iowa, the following year and eventually settled in Idaho. The Snake River Reclamation Project promised cheap water for irrigation, funded by the government, that would convert the desert of southern Idaho into lush farmland. Simplot’s father became a homesteader, obtaining land for free and clearing it with a steel rail dragged between two teams of horses. Simplot grew up working hard on the farm. He rebelled against his domineering father, dropped out of school at the age of fifteen and left home. He found work at a potato warehouse in the small town of Declo, Idaho. He sorted potatoes with a “shaker sorter,” a hand-held device, nine to ten hours a day for thirty cents an hour. At the boarding house where he rented a room, simplot met a group of public-school teachers who were being paid not in cash but in interest-bearing scrip. Simplot bought the scrip from the teachers for fifty cents on the dollar – and then sold the scrip to a local bank for ninety cents on the dollar. With his earnings, Simplot bought a rifle, an old truck and 600 hogs for one dollar a head. He built a cooker in the desert, stoked it with sagebrush, shot wild horses, skinned them, sold their hides for two dollars each, cooked their meat and fed it to his hogs through the winter. That spring, J.R. simplot sold the hogs for $7,500 and became a potato farmer.

The Idaho potato industry was just getting started in the 1920s. The state’s altitude, warm days, cool nights, light volcanic soil and abundance of irrigated water made it an ideal setting to grow Russett Burbank potatoes. Simplot leased 160 acres, then bought farm equipment and a team of horses. He learned how to grow potatoes from his landlord, Lindsey Maggert. In 1928, Simplot and Maggert purchased an electric potato sorter, a remarkable new labor-saving device. Simplot began sorting potatoes for his friends and neighbors, but Maggert did not want to share the new sorter with anyone else. The two men fought over the machine and then agreed to settle who owned it with the flip of a silver dollar. J.R. Simplot won the coin toss, got to keep the sorter, sold all his farm equipment and started his own business in a Declo potato cellar. He traveled the countryside, sorting potatoes for farmers, plugging the rudimentary machine into the nearest available light socket. Soon he was buying and selling potatoes, opening warehouses and forming relationships with commodities brokers nationwide. When J.R. simplot needed timber for a new warehouse, he and his men would head to Yellowstone Park and chop down some trees. Within a decade, simplot was the largest shipper of potatoes in the West, maintaining thirty-three warehouses in Oregon and Idaho.

Simplot also shipped onions. In 1941, he started to wonder why a company in California, the Burbank Corp., was ordering so many of his onions. Simplot went to California and followed one of the company’s trucks to a prune orchard in Vacaville, where the Burbank Corp. was using prune dryers to make dehydrated onions. Simplot immediately bought a six-tunnel prune dryer and set up his own dehydration plant west of Caldwell, Idaho. Three months later, the United States entered World War II. Simplot’s company sold dehydrated onions to the U.S. Army and then perfected a technique for drying potatoes. The Simplot Dehydrating Co. quickly became one of the principal suppliers of food to the American military, operating the largest dehydration plant in the world. J.R. Simplot used the profits earned in wartime to buy potato farms and cattle ranches, to build fertilizer plants and lumber mills, to stake mining claims and open a huge phosphate mine on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. By the end of World War II, Simplot was growing his own potatoes, fertilizing them with his own phosphate, processing them at his factories, shipping them in boxes from his lumberyards and feeding the leftover potato waste to his cattle. He was thirty-six years old.

After the war, Simplot invested heavily in frozen-food technology. He assembled a team of chemists to develop a product that seemed to have enormous commercial potential: the frozen french fry. Americans were eating more fries than ever before, and the Russett Burbank, with its large size and high starch content, was the perfect potato for frying. Simplot wanted to create a frozen fry that was inexpensive and that tasted just as good as a fresh one. Although Thomas Jefferson brought the Parisian recipe for pommes frites to the United States in 1802, french fries did not become well known in this country until the 1920s. According to the food historian Elisabeth Rozin, Americans had traditionally eaten their potatoes boiled, mashed or baked. The french fry was popularized in the United States by World War I veterans who had enjoyed the dish in Europe and by the drive-in restaurants that subsequently arose in the 1930s and 1940s. Fries could be served without a fork or a knife; they were easy to eat behind the wheel. But they were extremely time-consuming to prepare. Simplot’s chemists experimented with various techniques for the mass production of french fries. The technical problems were solved in 1953, and J.R. Simplot earned the first patent for frozen french fries. Sales of the product were initially disappointing. Although the frozen fries were precooked and could be baked in an oven, they tasted best when reheated in hot oil, which limited their appeal to busy housewives. Simplot needed to find institutional customers, restaurant owners who would recognize the tremendous advantages of using his frozen fries.

“The french fry (was)…almost sacrosanct for me,” Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s Corp., wrote in his memoris, “its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously.” The success of Richard and Mac McDonald’s hamburger stand had been based as much on the quality of their french fries as on the taste of their burgers. The McDonald brothers had devised an elaborate system for making crisp french fries, one that was later perfected by the restaurant chain. McDonald’s cooked thinly sliced Russett Burbanks in a mixture of vegetable oil and beef tallow, using special fryers designed to keep the oil temperature above 325 degrees. As their restaurant chain expanded, it became more difficult – and yet all the more important – to maintain the consistency and quality of the fries. J.R. Simplot met with Ray Kroc in 1965. Switching to frozen french fries appealed to Kroc, as a way to ensure uniformity and cut labor costs. McDonald’s obtained its Fresh potatoes from almost 200 different local suppliers, and its employees spend a great deal of their time peeling potatoes. Simplot offered to build a new factory solely for the production of McDonald’s french fries. Kroc agreed to try simplot’s fries but made no long-term commitment. The deal was finalized with a handshake.

McDonald’s began to sell J.R. Simplot’s frozen french fries the following year. Customers didn’t notice any difference in taste. And the reduced cost of using frozen product made french fries one of the most profitable items on the menu – far more profitable than hamburgers. Simplot quickly became the main supplier of french fries to McDonald’s. At the time, McDonald’s had about 725 restaurants in the United States. Within a decade, it had more than 3,000. Simplot sold his frozen fries to other restaurant chains, accelerating the growth of the fast-food industry and changing the nation’s eating habits. Americans have long consumed more potatoes than any other food except dairy products and wheat flour. In 1960, the typical American ate about three and a half pounds of frozen french fries. Last year, the typical American ate about thirty pounds of frozen french fries. Most of these fries were purchased at fast-food restaurants. Indeed, french fries are ordered more frequently at American restaurants than any other dish.

Today, J.R. Simplot, an eighth-grade dropout, is one of the richest men in the United States. The privately held company that he founded grows and processes corn, peas, broccoli, avocados and carrots, as well as potatoes; feeds and processes cattle; manufactures and distributes fertilizer; mines phosphate and silica; and produces oil, ethanol and natural gas. In 1980, Simplot provided $1 million in start-up funds to a couple of engineers working in the basement of a dentist’s office in Boise, Idaho. Fifteen years later, that investment in Micron Electronics – a manufacturer of computer memory chips – was worth about $4 billion. Simplot is also one of the nation’s biggest landowners. “I’ve been a land hog all my life,” Simplot told me, laughing. While still in his teens, he bought 18,000 acres along the Snake River in Idaho. He now owns 85,000 acres of irrigated farmland, more than twice that amount of ranch land and much of downtown Boise. His ZX Ranch in southern Oregon is the largest cattle ranch in the United States, measuring 65 miles wide and 163 miles long.

Though he is a multibillionaire, J.R. Simplot has few pretensions. He wears cowboy boots and bluejeans, holds business meetings at Elmer’s Pancake House in Boise and drives his own car, a Lincoln Continental with license plates that say MR. SPUD. He seems to have little patience for abstractions, describing his empire with a mixture of pride and awe: “It’s big, and it’s real – it ain’t bullshit.” Bad hips forced him to give up jogging at the age of seventy-five, and a bad fall made him give up horseback riding five years later. Nevertheless, at eighty-nine, J.R. Simplot still skis. He stepped down as the chief executive of his company in 1994, but he keeps buying more land and more livestock. “Hell, I’m just an old farmer got some luck,” Simplot said when I asked him about the key to his success. “The only thing I did smart, remember this – ninety-nine percent of people would have sold out when they got their first 25 or 30 million. I didn’t sell out. I just hung on….”

In recent years, the production of frozen french fries has become an intensely competitive business. Although the J.R. Simplot Co. supplies about half of the french fries that McDonald’s sells in the United States, two other fry companies are now larger: Lamb Weston, the nation’s leading producer of fries, and McCain, a Canadian firm that became the second-largest fry company after buying Ore-Ida last year. Simplot, Lamb Weston and McCain now control about eighty percent of the American market for frozen french fries, having eliminated or acquired most of their smaller rivals. The three french-fry giants compete for valuable contracts to supply the fast-food chains. Frozen french fries have become a bulk commodity, manufactured in high volumes at a low profit margin. Price differences of just a few pennies a pound can mean the difference between winning or losing a major contract. All of this has greatly benefited the fast-food chains, lowering their wholesale costs and making their retail sales of french fries ever more profitable. The fast-food companies purchase frozen fries for about thirty cents a pound, reheat them in oil and then sell them for about six dollars a pound.

During the 1960s, Idaho’s potato output surpassed that of Maine, the previous leader, due to the rise of the french-fry industry and the productivity gains made by Idaho farmers. Since 1980, the tonnage of potatoes grown in Idaho has almost doubled, while the average yield per acre has risen by thirty percent. But the extraordinary profits being made through the sale of french fries have hardly trickled down to the farmers. Paul Patterson, an extension professor of agricultural economics at the University of Idaho, describes the current market for potatoes as an “oligopsony” – a market in which a small number of buyers exert power over a large number of sellers. The giant processing companies do their best to drive down the prices offered to potato farmers. The increased productivity of Idaho farmers has lowered prices even further, shifting more of the profits to the processors and the fast-food chains. Out of every $1.50 spent on a large order of fries at a fast-food restaurant, perhaps two cents goes to the farmer who grew the potatoes.

In the past twenty-five years, Idaho has lost half of its potato farmers. During the same period, the amount of Idaho land devoted to potatoes has increased by one-third. Family farms are giving way to corporate farms that stretch for thousands of acres. These immense corporate farms are divided into smaller holdings for administrative purposes, and farmers who have been driven off the land are often hired to manage them. The patterns of land ownership in the American West are beginning to resemble those of rural England. “We’re coming full circle,” says Patterson. “One day you may find two classes of people in rural Idaho: the people who run the farms and the people who own them.”

Long regarded as the aristocrats of rural Idaho, potato farmers remain stubbornly independent and unwilling to join forces. “Some of them are independent to the point of poverty,” says Bert Moulton, a staff member at the Potato Growers of Idaho. The multinational food companies operate french-fry plants in a number of different regions, constantly shifting production to take advantage of the lowest potato prices, pitting one group of farmers against another. The economic fortunes of individual farmers and local communities matter little in the grand scheme. Today there are only 1,200 independent potato farmers left in Idaho – few enough to fit in a high school auditorium. The PGI recently tried to organize potato farmers into a cooperative, hoping to gain them more bargaining power. The effort was undermined by the big processors, who signed long-term deals with a handful of growers. The “joint ventures” being offered by french-fry companies provide farmers with the potato seed and financing for their crop, an arrangement that should dispel any illusions about their independence. “If potato farmers don’t band together,” Moulton warns, “they’ll wind up sharecroppers.”

At the peak of the fall harvest, I visited the Lamb Weston plant in American Falls, Idaho. It’s one of the biggest fry factories in the nation and produces french fries for McDonald’s. It has a production capacity nearly six times larger than that of the Simplot plant in Aberdeen. Lamb Weston was founded in 1950 by F. Gilbert Lamb, the inventor of a crucial piece of french-fry-mak-ing technology. The Lamb Water Gun Knife uses a high-pressure system to shoot potatoes at a speed of 117 feet per second through a grid of sharpened steel blades, thereby creating perfectly sliced french fries. After coming up with the idea, Gilbert Lamb tested the first Water Gun Knife in a company parking lot, shooting potatoes out of a fire hose. The company was bought by ConAgra in 1986. Lamb Weston now manufactures more than 130 different types of french fries, including steak house Fries, CrissCut Fries, Hi-Fries, Mor-Fries, Burger Fries, Taterboy Crispy QQQ Fries, TaterBabies, Mini Bakers, MunchSkins, Twister Fries, Rus-ettes and Special Dry Fry Shoestrings.

Bud Mandeville, the production manager, led me up a narrow wooden staircase inside one of the plant’s storage buildings. On the top floor, the staircase led to a catwalk, and beneath my feet I saw a mound of potatoes that was twenty feet deep, a hundred feet wide, and almost as long as two football fields. The building was kept at forty-six degrees year-round. In the dim light, the potatoes looked like grains of sand on a beach. This was one of seven storage buildings on the property.

Outside, tractor-trailers arrived from the fields, carrying potatoes that had just been harvested. The trucks dumped their loads onto spinning rods that brought the larger potatoes into the building and let the small potatoes, dirt and rocks fall to the ground. The rods led to a rock trap, a tank of water in which the potatoes floated and the rocks sank to the bottom. The plant used water systems to float potatoes gently this way and that way, guiding different sizes out of different holding bays, then flushing them into a three-foot-deep stream that ran beneath the cement floor. The interior of the processing plant was gray, massive and well-lighted, with huge pipes running along walls, steel catwalks, workers in hard hats and plenty of loud machinery. If there weren’t potatoes bobbing and floating past, you might think the place was an oil refinery. Conveyor belts took the wet, clean potatoes into a machine that blasted them with steam for twelve seconds, boiled the water under their skins and exploded the skins off. Then the potatoes were pumped into a preheat tank and shot through a Lamb Water Gun Knife. They emerged as shoestring fries. Four video cameras scrutinized them from different angles, looking for flaws. When a french fry with a blemish was detected, an optical sorting machine time-sequenced a single burst of compressed air that knocked the bad fry off the production line and onto a separate conveyor belt, which carried it to a machine with tiny automated knives that precisely removed the blemish. And then the fry was returned to the main production line.

Sprays of hot water blanched the fries, gusts of hot air dried them, and 25,000 pounds of boiling oil fried them to a slight crisp. Air cooled by compressed ammonia gas quickly froze them, a computerized sorter divided them into six-pound batches, and a device that spun like an out-of-control Lazy Susan used centrifugal force to align the french fries so that they all pointed in the same direction. The fries were sealed in brown bags, then the bags were loaded by robots into cardboard boxes, and the boxes were stacked by robots onto wooden pallets. Forklifts driven by human beings took the pallets to a freezer for storage. Inside that freezer I saw 20 million pounds of french fries, most of them destined for McDonald’s, the boxes of fries stacked thirty feet high, the stacks extending for roughly forty yards. And the freezer was half empty. Every day about a dozen railway cars and about two dozen tractor-trailers pulled up to the freezer, loaded up with french fries and departed for McDonald’s restaurants all over the West.

Near the freezer was a laboratory where men and women in white coats analyzed french fries day and night, measuring their sugar content, their starch content, their color. During the fall, Lamb Weston adds sugar to the fries; in the spring, it leaches sugar out of them; the goal is to maintain a uniform appearance throughout the year. Every half hour, a new batch of fries was cooked in fryers identical to those installed in fast-food kitchens. A middle-aged woman in a lab coat handed me a paper plate full of premium extra longs, the type of french fries sold at McDonald’s, and a salt shaker and some ketchup. The fries on the plate looked so familiar yet wildly out of place in this laboratory setting, this food factory with its computer screens, digital readouts, shiny steel platforms and evacuation plans in case of ammonia-gas leaks. Despite all that, the french fries were delicious – crisp and golden brown, made from potatoes that had been in the ground that morning.

I finished them and asked for some more.

Where the Beef Has Been

You can smell Greeley, Colorado, long before you can see it. The smell is hard to forget but not easy to describe, a combination of live animals, manure and dead animals being rendered into dog food. The smell is worst during the summer months, hanging heavy in the warm air, almost assuming a physical presence, blanketing Greeley day and night. Some people who live there no longer notice the smell; it recedes into the background, present but not present, like the sound of traffic for most New Yorkers. Others can’t stop thinking about the smell, even after years; it permeates everything, sickens them, interferes with their sleep. Greeley is a factory town, one where cattle are the units of production.

Monfort Inc., “The Complete Meat Company,” runs a beef slaughterhouse, a sheep slaughterhouse and processing plants a few miles north of Greeley. To supply the beef slaughterhouse, Monfort operates two of the nation’s largest feedlots, which together hold up to 200,000 head of cattle. One of the feed-lots stretches for almost two miles along Highway 35. At times, the animals are crowded so closely together that it looks like a Woodstock Festival for cattle, a moving mass of animals that goes on for acres. At feeding time, the cattle don’t eat blue grama and buffalo grass off the prairie; during the three months before slaughter, they eat surplus grain dumped into long concrete troughs that resemble highway dividers. The grain fattens the cattle more rapidly than grass would. Almost two-thirds of the grain produced in the U.S. is now used to feed livestock, mainly cattle.

A typical steer will consume about two tons of grain during its stay at a feedlot, just to gain 400 pounds in weight. The process involves a fair amount of waste. Each steer deposits about fifty pounds of manure every day. The two feedlots outside Greeley produced more excrement last year than the populations of Denver, Boston, Atlanta and St. Louis – combined.

More than ninety percent of American cattle were grass-fed, not grain-fed, until the years after World War II. They roamed the range, eating native grasses, or lived on farms and ate hay. Warren Monfort, who owned a farm north of Greeley, became one of the nation’s first large-scale cattle feeders, buying cheap corn, sugar beets and alfalfa from local farmers during the Depression. Monfort’s feedlot business expanded after the war. By feeding cattle year-round, he could control the timing of his livestock sales and wait for the best prices at the Chicago stockyards. The meat of grain-fed beef was fatty and tender. Unlike grass-fed beef, it did not need to be aged for a few weeks; it could be eaten within days of the slaughter. Feedlots sprang up throughout the Midwest during the 1970s. The huge American grain surpluses, largely caused by government price supports, provided cheap food for livestock and made cattle feeding a standard practice in the nation’s beef industry. The annual capacity of Warren Monfort’s feedlots in the 1950s was about 20,000 head of cattle. The three Colorado feedlots operated by Monfort Inc. now fatten almost a million cattle a year.

A generation ago, meatpacking plants were located in cities across the United States. The plants were staffed by skilled union workers. Meatpacking was a difficult job but a highly paid and desirable one. It provided a stable middle-class income – a career. Live cattle were shipped from the high plains to urban packing houses, where they were slaughtered, cut into sides of beef and then sold to wholesalers. Skilled, unionized butchers reduced the sides of beef to marketable cuts or ground them into hamburger meat. But in 1966, a new company, Iowa Beef Processors (later known as IBP), launched a new meatpacking system that soon made the traditional slaughterhouse obsolete. IBP opened slaughterhouses in the high plains, placing them near the feedlots. Instead of shipping full sides of beef, IBP “fabricated” carcasses into smaller cuts within the plant and sold them as “boxed beef.” It changed production methods in order to take advantage of a deskilled work force – much like the fast-food chains – simplifying each job into a single task that could be performed again and again. And it waged a ruthless campaign against labour unions, an effort made easier by the placement of its slaughterhouses in rural states such as Iowa and Nebraska that were hostile to unions. In the mid-1970s, the average meatpacker’s wage was about fifteen dollars an hour (in today’s dollars). The workers at IBP plants were paid about half that amount.

As IBP opened a series of slaughterhouses in small rural towns, becoming the nation’s largest beef-processing company, its competitors were forced to adopt the same system of production or risk going out of business. The Monfort family had established a slaughterhouse near its feedlots in Greeley during the early 1960s, later becoming one of the leading meat-packers in the industry. The workers at Monfort be longed to a union and earned good wages. There was a waiting list for jobs at the plant. But the changes in the meatpacking industry soon reached Colorado. In 1980, Monfort shut down its slaughterhouse in Greeley and fired all the workers. When the beef plant reopened two years later, union members were not rehired and wages were cut by forty percent.

The same production system that enabled meatpacking companies to get rid of their union workers allowed supermarket chains and wholesalers to fire their skilled, highly paid butchers. More and more beef processing took place within slaughterhouses. Grinders were installed to make hamburger meat. And the growing purchasing power of the supermarket chains and the fast-food chains encouraged concentration in the meatpacking industry. In 1968, McDonald’s bought ground beef from 175 local suppliers around the country; a few years later, seeking to achieve uniformity as it expanded, McDonald’s reduced the number of its beef suppliers to five. Rival meatpackers joined forces to cut costs and wipe out their competition. In 1918, the five largest meatpackers controlled fifty-five percent of the American market. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration curtailed the power of these companies, known as the Beef Trust, using a consent decree. In 1977, the four largest meatpacking companies controlled only twenty-five percent of the market. By the end of the 1980s, however, three multinational corporations co