Mmm… Food

Week 8: Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee By: Bee Wilson
February 25, 2009, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Books


Swindled: The Dark Hisotry of Food Fraud, From Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee.  By Bee Wilson

What a read. Nowadays in the the U.S. some of the biggest “swindles” seem to focus on organic food as an escape from the “adulteration” of our foods with pesticides. (There are of course all the additives, flavourings, colorings and preservatives in processed foods, but that’s a whole other story) The book talks about this kind of adulteration but also gives us a rich background of adulterations of food with things like arsenic, plaster of paris, bark and clay. Things that have no nutritional value and some things that will kill you. While they don’t occur very often in the US they aren’t completely gone. but there are still food scares that happen nowadays that are more like some of the historic examples in the book. Panics like the melamine in milk coming from China being one of the most recent.

The book gives a great history of the swindles that have been carried out over the histories of England and the US. Bee Wilson argues that worries about swindles arose as societies moved from an agrarian to an industrial culture. As people became further and further distanced from their food stuffs they were more and more and liable to be given something false, of lower quality, substitutions in general crappier products. Really to be living in this day and age in the US where food Nutrition labels are on most everything, detailing out ingredients, calories, fats, proteins, sugars. It really is amazing. You used to get something and have no idea what they might be putting in it. Coffee laced with chicory, bark and acorns. Bread made with alum (to make it whiter and more desirable). Candies coated with lead and copper compounds which gave them bright green yellow and red colors.

After reading this book the drive to eat more “whole foods”, things that come from nature and have an easy name like chicken, peppers, apples, asparagus, eggs and milk is even stronger. (These items still have the ability to be swindled in the way they are grown and raised but they still rate much higher than any processed foods). We have been doing this quite well for a while now, and it just makes so much more sense to me. Eating this way makes grocery trips so much easier, and reasons out why I like small markets like Devon Market and Harvesttime foods. When you eat more “whole foods” you end up doing most of your shopping in the produce and meat and dairy sections. The exceptions for other aisles include getting items like olive oils, beans, pasta and rice. But really that’s only 2 additional aisles I need to travel down. In general when you buy and eat this way you know what you’re getting. There is of course processing for milk and yogurt and there are additives in these foods, but the lists are much shorter than what you might find on the side of a box of oreos. I mean really, what is in an Oreo?? You would be hardpressed to make something like it at home, although, as the book points out, there is a website where people try to make giant at home versions of processed foods. The results are strange and kind of mystifying. Check this one of giant Oreo at

Four Stars. Read this Book!!!


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