If you look at the food system today, the most profitable parts of the food chain are not the people who do the actual work of growing a crop or raising an animal - they're people who control the agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticide, or they're the processors. That's because working the land and dealing with animals is unpredictable - you have diseases, you have climate changes. So what these big corporations figured they could do is offload the risk onto relatively smallscale farmers and ranchers, and they could be the big business end of the story.
Historian Joshua Specht explains how the 19th century cattle-beef industry shaped modern American agribusiness - pitting the interest of workers across the supply chain against each other to ensure low prices and corporate profit, and building a powerful system of control over law, labor and land that endures today.
Joshua is author of the book Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America from Princeton University Press.