Formaldehyde, borax, salicylic acid. Today, these chemicals are used in embalming fluids, cleaning supplies, and acne medications. But in 1900, they were routinely added to food that Americans ate from cans and jars. Often products weren't safe because unregulated, unethical companies added these and other chemicals to trick consumers into buying spoiled food or harmful medicines. Chemist Harvey Washington Wiley recognized these dangers and began a relentless thirty-year campaign to ensure that consumers could purchase safe food and drugs, eventually leading to the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. Acclaimed nonfiction and Sibert Honor winning author Gail Jarrow uncovers this intriguing history in her trademark style that makes the past enthrallingly relevant for today's young readers (from the publisher).About this book, the reviewer from Kirkus Reviews said, "Revolting and riveting in turns, Jarrow's masterfully crafted narrative will fundamentally alter how readers view their food."
Revolting is right. Someone told me to never ask what was in a sausage. Well, Jarrow tells us what was in them in the early 1900s and it is disgusting: pieces of meat and fat, some which has fallen to the ground to be swept up with dead rats and rat poison, cut up together and made into a sausage. There were no laws and few enforcers to make sure that food was safe to consume. If a chemical, say formaldehyde, preserved meat, why not add it to fresh meat so it wouldn't spoil as quickly? There was no thought about what the chemical might be doing to the insides of a person who eats it. Thank goodness Dr. Harvey Wiley came along and doggedly sounded the alarm about the need to legislate safety measures for food standards, drugs, and cosmetics. Though it took him thirty years of trying finally the legislature did the right thing and founded the Food and Drug Administration. Whenever anyone says they are pining for the "good-ole-days" I'll point them to this book and tell them to read it before they get to be too nostalgic. It was the wild-west out there. Who knew what was really in the food we ate and the medicine we took. Egads.
Today when you listen to the news about the Trump Administration attempting to "drain the swamp" by getting rid of bureaucrats. Ask yourself what job to those people do? Are they testing foods, medicines, and cosmetics to make sure they are safe to use or eat? Do we really want to go back in time to the days before regulations? No.
What I liked about the book:
- As per usual, Gail Jarrow has created not only an important book, but also an attractive one, full of photographs and illustrations. In this volume there are lots of examples of old advertisements for horrifying products, such as a cough syrup for children which contained morphine. Another for Lash Lure which was advertised to improve eye lashes and brows. What ever was in it could blind a person and actually did.
- There were plenty of horrifying and informative stories. Enough to keep even the most squirrely teenager interested.
- The book is less than 160 pages long and the last 25 of the pages are made up of resources for those writing reports. There is a glossary, a timeline, chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index.
- I wish it included a little bit about what is happening today in politics surrounding deregulation. I think that would be helpful for students to connect the dots to the days before regulation and what might happen again.