If every dish on your table was poisoned, would you be so quick to jump at the call to dinner?
In posing this question via an extended opening scene, Jarrow vivaciously draws readers into a world of horrors hiding in plain taste. The first half of the book plunges into the story of U.S. Department of Agriculture chemist Harvey Wiley, who devoted the majority of his working life to combating food adulteration. After he conducted a series of studies designed to illustrate the “highly poisonous and injurious” nature of preservatives, his subjects, dubbed the “Poison Squad,” gained national fame. A nearly Dickensian display of Congressional stalling was subverted when renowned magazines corroborated Wiley’s findings, and the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle finally pushed into effect the ineffectual but seminal Food and Drugs Act of 1906, which marked the first tangible progress toward improved food safety. The book’s second half traces a thorny path to the workings of the modern FDA, and Jarrow doesn’t hesitate to point out ongoing limitations alongside advances. Maintaining a matter-of-fact, conversational tone throughout, she presents a tantalizing flood of anecdotes and facts, text peppered with old magazine adverts, photographs, and gory details aplenty; extensive backmatter encourages further research into a subject more than fascinating enough to warrant it. Revolting and riveting in turns, Jarrow’s masterfully crafted narrative will fundamentally alter how readers view their food.
Though laced with toxins, this is anything but toxic. (Chemical descriptions, glossary, timeline, info links, author’s note, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-17)