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Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century | Deborah Blum
15 posts | 8 read | 2 reading | 28 to read
From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry, and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by "embalmed milk" every year. Citizens--activists, journalists, scientists, and women's groups--began agitating for change. But even as protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then, in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, "The Poison Squad." Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking reporter Upton Sinclair, whose fiction revealed the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry J. Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as "Dr. Wiley's Law." Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying "David and Goliath" tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.
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Jen2
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Pickpick

Holy crap!!!! This story is amazing and horrifying! Highly recommend.

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Lindy
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Pickpick

A riveting account of the fight for food safety & labelling requirements in late 19th-c and early 20th-c America. Consumers were unaware that the food they were buying contained such things as borax, formaldehyde, copper sulphate, lead, burnt rope, coal tar dyes & floor sweepings. Harvey Wiley, chief chemist at the US Dept of Agriculture, is the larger-than-life central figure but other heroes include Upton Sinclair, Fannie Farmer & Heinz ketchup.

Lindy BTW, Kirsten Potter narrates the excellent #audiobook production. 7mo
58 likes2 stack adds1 comment
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Lindy
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You need a strong stomach to read about all the food additives and fakery that‘s outlined in this book. 19th-century dairy producers diluted skimmed milk with water, then added chalk, plaster, dyes and /or calf brains to give it a better colour. “People could not be induced to eat brain sandwiches in a sufficient amount to use all the brains, and so a new market was devised.” Formaldehyde was widely used to hide or prevent spoilage.

Lindy John Newell Hurty, Indiana‘s chief public health officer was asked if he thought it was unhealthy to put formaldehyde in milk. He said:
“Well, it‘s embalming fluid that you are adding to milk. I guess it‘s all right if you want to embalm the baby.”
7mo
TrishB 🤢 7mo
BiblioLitten 😖 7mo
saresmoore I‘ll steer clear of this one. Yeesh. 7mo
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Lindy
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In 1847 three English children fell seriously ill after eating birthday cake decorated with arsenic-tinted green leaves.

(Internet photo)

Suet624 Yikes! 7mo
Libby1 🤢 7mo
Tanisha_A 😱 7mo
See All 7 Comments
TrishB Whoops 7mo
Lcsmcat I was just reading in Bryson‘s At Home how many people were poisoned by their wallpaper because of arsenic dyes. They got better when sent for a seaside cure not because of the ocean, but because they escaped their poison room! 7mo
Lindy @Suet624 @Libby1 @Tanisha_A @TrishB And that‘s just the the tip of the iceberg as far as deaths from adulterated food. 😳 7mo
Lindy @Lcsmcat Oh! That‘s a great book, isn‘t it? So many interesting facts. A similar one is 7mo
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Christinak
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I was only able to get this from my library via audiobook. Thank goodness. If I had read this via book it would have taken me forever as I read, stopped, re-read, pondered, & looked up things. I have food allergies & I have to read EVERY label. Thank goodness I can. Today we still debate over what is safe for us to eat. I could get on my soapbox & talk about food but I won‘t. I will suggest you pick up this book and rethink what you think you eat.

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balletbookworm
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A very good overview of the development of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the political struggles of the era which are, annoyingly, still the same struggles today. “Regulation stifles business and prevents us from making as much greedy money as possible” versus “please stop trying to poison the populace with unknown food additives, pesticides, chemical dyes, etc.” (you can guess what side I come down on) The writing is a bit dry at times.

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Litpixie
Pickpick

When my family learned I was reading this book they were afraid I'd get to the point if not wanting to eat much. After reading a selection from The Jungle in high school I refused to eat ground meat. It took nearly 20 years before I ate a hamburger. This book is so good, and frightening. To learn how people ate just 100 years ago is startling. I can't recommend this book enough.

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Kobe83

Nyt notable book 2018

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Litpixie
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As I come down with possible bronchitis I'm going to rest today and read a new book. I'm still hoping to finish my TBR for November in the next few days.

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booklover76
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Did a double take when I saw progressive and Republican in the same sentence. Then I remembered what year the author is currently covering. 😂

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rabbitprincess
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Another great book by Blum. She writes smoothly and clearly, and the information presented is a consistently interesting blend of "WHAT?!" and "EWWWW". It is also a very timely read. Food safety was a hard-won battle and we cannot take its existence for granted.

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abbylibrarian
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Excited it‘s finally leggings season and excited to start this book. I loved her book THE POISONER‘S HANDBOOK.

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JessNevertheless
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Just went to the most delightful book talk by Deborah Blum! Further confirms my love of science and science writers. 👩🏻‍🔬 Can't wait to dive into this book about food safety in the early 20th century!

Alwaysbeenaloverofbooks Love your pic 🖤 10mo
Maria514626 The book sounds fascinating! And the photo is gorgeous. 10mo
JessNevertheless @Maria514626 Thanks! Yeah it was such an interesting talk, can't wait to dive in! 10mo
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Lindy
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Heard about the #poison squad (historical experiment and the book of that name) on the Gastropod podcast. What horrifies me most is that food additives proven to be harmful continue to be used.
https://gastropod.com/keeping-it-fresh-preservatives-and-the-poison-squad/
@Cinfhen

Nutmegnc 🙀🙀🙀🙀🙀 12mo
saresmoore It is horrifying, but knowing how sticky & tricky the legislation and regulation processes are, I appreciate the approach of educating the consumer! Now if only we could convince schools to abandon the “four food groups” approach to nutrition education in favor of teaching kids how to read labels and grow vegetables. Stepping down from my soapbox, now... 12mo
Lindy @saresmoore Hear, hear. 12mo
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Cinfhen Tagging my lovely cohost @Kalalalatja and bravo to you both @lindy @saresmoore 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 12mo
Kalalalatja You go @Lindy and @saresmoore 🙌🙌 12mo
Centique @saresmoore Out of interest, kids here in nz have a nutrition component to complete in Health in Year 6. Our school spent time studying nutrition labels and decoding numbers, visiting the supermarket as a class and comparing labels to find the best and worst combos. A lot of schools here also have vege gardens and composting etc, not ours yet though... 12mo
saresmoore @Centique That is wonderful! My kids attended an elementary school with a health and wellness focus last year (Florida, US), but beyond an emphasis on getting plenty of exercise, their information was mostly useless. Schools are ideal places to pilot composting and gardening programs, so I love to hear that! 12mo
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Lissa00
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So I entered a nonfiction giveaway (like we do😉) from @penguinrandomhouse and won🎉🎉. The books came today and they all look fascinating. I‘ll post updates while reading.

LeahBergen Nice! 👏🏻👏🏻 14mo
Grrlbrarian OOOH A NEW DEBORAH BLUM 😍 Fantastic! 14mo
CouronneDhiver Cool! 👍🏽 14mo
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