A failure to prohibit: New York City's underground bob veal trade

Joshua Albert Specht

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1 Citation (Scopus)


During the Progressive Era, bob veal, the meat of calves slaughtered at younger than four weeks of age, was incorrectly believed to be poisonous, and its sale was prohibited in areas across the United States. Yet a thriving underground trade persisted. This article studies bob veal s prohibition in Progressive Era New York City to understand where the meat was coming from, how it reached diners tables, and who was eating it. I argue that bob veal s consumers, many of whom were recent immigrants and the urban poor, recognized the meat was benign. In examining the prohibition s failure, this article studies the politics of regulation and policing. For the ban s advocates, the language and assumptions of the broader pure food and public health movements were simultaneously empowering and constraining, giving reformers a political language to build institutional support for the prohibition and helping journalists sell newspapers even as this language required effacing the complexity of the bob veal trade. From the perspective of bob veal s many producers, smugglers, and consumers, this article highlights how a diffuse social power a politics on the ground can trump formal authority. Copyright (c) 2013 Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475 - 501
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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