Pig's Glands, Home Medicine Cabinets, and the US Food System

Authors: Rachel Boothby*, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Topics: United States, Animal Geographies, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: US food system, meat, animals
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Astor Ballroom II, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What does thyroid medication have to do with the US food system? At face value, these things seem utterly disconnected from one another. However, a close examination of the history of this medicinal object reveals the interconnectedness of the pharmaceutical industry with industrial meat processing spanning the past century. Once used by the great Chicago meatpackers to turn a profit on dressed meat sold to far-flung markets at cut-rate value, a medication made from dried pig’s thyroid helped drive local butcher shops out of business and push Chicago dressed pork into self-service supermarkets nationwide. Once housed in the same facility as slaughter, laboratories producing desiccated thyroid and other pharmaceuticals made from animal by-products were splintered off and sold in the mid-twentieth century as the massive consolidation of agro-food industry shifted the financial and infrastructural landscape rendering animal life profitable, further removing products such as thyroid hormone from the animal itself. Yet moments of rupture and contestation reveal that the animal can never be fully removed from the commodity, and only by understanding the historical geography of animal by-products such as thyroid medication can we truly understand the US food system.

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