When you think of crime, crimes involving meat are probably not the category of illicit activities that first comes to mind. And yet it doesn’t take much digging to come across moments in history where the processing and selling of meat ventured into unethical or illegal territory — beginning with the real-life history that inspired Upton Sinclair’s classic The Jungle and going from there.
Earlier this year, the British government began an investigation into foreign pork fraudulently sold as a domestic product, for instance. A decade ago, a different food scandal swept Europe, this one involving incorrectly labeled horse meat — with some illicit painkillers thrown into the mix.
And then there’s the case that Gretchen Cherington wrote about in her recent book The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy: A Family Memoir of Scandal and Greed in the Meat Industry. In a new article for CrimeReads, Cherington revisited her own family history — including her grandfather A.L. Eberhart, who helped Hormel Foods rise to prominence.
That also brought Cherington’s grandfather into the orbit of one Ransome Josiah Thomson — a man who went on to embezzle millions of dollars from Hormel, which he used in part to build, in Cherington’s words, “a hybrid chicken farm-amusement park in the middle of nowhere.”
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Cherington’s article offers an interesting look at both the scope of the embezzlement scandal and of its lasting impact. It also acts as a reminder that, while the world of meat might seem staid at times, there’s also plenty of room for illicit activities and subterfuge to take place there — sometimes in unexpected ways.
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