The Poison Squad, written by Deborah Blum, outlines the progressive movement at the beginning of the 20th century to promote food safety laws and labeling requirements. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemist at the Department of Agriculture helped to change popular culture’s attitude toward food safety during the Industrial Revolution with his crusade for food purity regulations in the United States. He pushed against powerful meatpacking and food processing industries as well as the governmental entities that supported those interests.
This book resonates the fact that we continue to fight the same battles throughout history, just on different battlegrounds.
We may envision our forefathers enjoying home-churned butter, fresh cow’s milk, breads from the oven, or grass-fed beef. However, during Wiley’s time, foods were “faked” with sawdust, iron oxides, clay, and lead for texture, filler, and coloring. Beef was laced with embalming fluids to preserve it, and Borax (yes, the 20-Mule team cleaning powder) was a common food additive as well.
Today, we worry about hormones in food, GMO’s, pesticides and mercury in our seafood.
No matter what the issue is, we will continue to see industries, government, media, activists, and the general public all with their agendas--usually meant to ultimately boost their own beliefs or balance sheets. Living in a free society is not always very clear-cut. However, knowing generations past have dealt with similar issues is oddly comforting to me.
This quote by Mark Bradley expresses it perfectly. “The famous George Santayana quoted: ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.’ That’s the thing, though. None of us have forgotten. Darned if we’re not repeating it anyway.”