Cover image for The poison squad : one chemist's single-minded crusade for food safety at the turn of the twentieth century
Title:
The poison squad : one chemist's single-minded crusade for food safety at the turn of the twentieth century
Author:
Blum, Deborah, 1954- author.
ISBN:
9781594205149
Physical Description:
xxi, 330 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents:
"I wonder what's in it" -- A chemical wilderness -- Cheated, fooled, and bamboozled -- The beef court -- What's in it? -- Only the brave -- Lessons in food poisoning -- The yellow chemist -- The jungle -- The poison trust -- Of ketchup and corn syrup -- Excuses for everything -- Of whiskey and soda -- The love microbe -- The adulteration snake -- The history of a crime.
Abstract:
Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley set out to ensure food safety. He selected food tasters to test various food additives and preservatives, letting them know that the substances could be harmful or deadly. The tasters were recognized for their courage, and became known as the poison squad.

"By the end of the nineteenth century, food in America was increasingly dangerous--lethal, even. Milk and meat were routinely preserved with formaldehyde, a practice based on the embalming of corpses. Beer and wine were preserved with salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical; canned vegetables were greened-up by copper sulphate, a toxic metallic salt; rancid butter was made edible with borax, best known 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 adulterated and chemically 'improved' milk. Citizens--activists, journalists, scientists, and wornen's groups--began agitating for change. But although 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 United States Department of Agriculture, 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 inimitable Dr. Wiley campaigning tirelessly for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking author Upton Sinclair, who fought to reveal the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land as 'Dr. Wiley's Law.' Deborah 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."--Dust jacket.
Geographic Term:

Available:*

Library
Copy
Call Number
Material Type
Status
Hornell Public Library 1 363.19 BLU Adult NonFiction Book
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

A New York Times Notable Book

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.


Author Notes

Deborah Blum is director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, and editor of Undark magazine, (undark.org). In 1992, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a series on primate research, which she turned into a book, The Monkey Wars . Her other books include The Poisoner's Handbook , Ghost Hunters , Love at Goon Park , and Sex on the Brain . She has written for publications including The New York Times , Wired , Time , Discover , Mother Jones , The Guardian and The Boston Globe . Blum is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a lifetime associate of the National Academy of Sciences.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After signing America's first food-and-drug law in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was quick to claim paternity. But in this compellingly detailed chronicle, Blum identifies Harvey Washington Wiley as the true father of the much-needed legislation. Readers follow this Purdue chemist, named the Department of Agriculture's lead scientist, as he painstakingly documents the harmful effects of contaminants and toxins in the food supply and then fearlessly crusades for legal measures to protect the public. Roosevelt does give Wiley timely (albeit inconsistent) support for his legislative agenda. But perhaps more important is the political momentum generated by Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, exposing the horrifically unsanitary practices of Chicago's meat-packers. Outspoken cookbook maven Fannie Farmer and progressive food-processing titan Henry Heinz also join the fight. But readers see how powerful industry executives connive with myopic bureaucrats to deny Wiley and his allies full enforcement of the new food-and-drug law, finally sending a frustrated Wiley into early retirement. Citing worrisome recent attacks on consumer-protection laws, Blum reminds readers of the twenty-first-century relevance of Wiley's cause.--Bryce Christensen Copyright 2018 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

America's nauseating industrial food supply of yesteryear sparks political turmoil in this engrossing study of a pure-foods pioneer. Pulitzer-winning science journalist and Undark magazine publisher Blum (The Poisoner's Handbook) looks back to the end of the 19th century, when unregulated manufacturers routinely added noxious substances to the nation's foodstuffs: cakes were colored with lead and arsenic; milk was preserved with formaldehyde; brown sugar was padded out with ground-up insects; processed meats contained every variety of flesh and filth. Blum centers the book on Harvey Wiley, crusading head of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Chemistry, who fed a "poison squad" of human volunteers common food adulterants like borax to see if they got sick-and they usually did; his reports helped pass the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. Blum's well-informed narrative-complete with intricate battles between industry lobbyists and a coalition of scientists, food activists, and women's groups-illuminates the birth of the modern regulatory state and its tangle of reformist zeal, policy dog-fights, and occasional overreach (Wiley wanted to restrict the artificial sweetener saccharin, which nowadays is considered safe, and wasted much time trying to get corn syrup relabeled as glucose). The result is a stomach churner and a page-turner. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Concerns about clean food, campaign contributions from food company lobbyists, and political in-fighting halting all progress may sound familiar-but this investigation by Blum (Knight Science Journalism Program, Massachusetts Inst. of Technology; The Poisoner's Handbook) is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1880s. The work outlines the 30-year career of Dr. Harvey Wiley, who left his position as Purdue University's first chemistry professor to become the chief chemist for the USDA in 1883. Once hired, he began systematically testing food products for mislabeling and adulteration, often on human subjects. This book not only revisits Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, the exposé of horrendous meat processing practices of the time, but also unearths lesser-known but just as stomach-turning food scandals, such as milk "preserved" with formaldehyde, eggs and cheese blended with borax, and candy containing arsenic. Illuminating the little-known history of a progressive scientist and crusader for consumers' rights, this well-written and well-researched work serves as a reminder of the necessity of regulations and regulators to hold companies accountable. VERDICT An intriguing and often horrifying saga of government policy and food regulation.-Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

"I Wonder What's in It"p. xi
Cast of Charactersp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Part I
1 A Chemical Wildernessp. 11
2 Cheated, Fooled, and Bamboozledp. 29
3 The Beef Courtp. 47
4 What's In It?p. 65
5 Only the Bravep. 80
6 Lessons in Food Poisoningp. 98
7 The Yellow Chemistp. 119
8 The Junglep. 137
Part II
9 The Poison Trustp. 155
10 Of Ketchup and Corn Syrupp. 177
11 Excuses for Everythingp. 191
12 Of Whiskey and Sodap. 208
13 The Love Microbep. 227
14 The Adulteration Snakep. 251
15 The History of a Crimep. 266
Epiloguep. 287
Gratitudesp. 293
Notesp. 295
Photo creditsp. 320
Indexp. 321

Google Preview