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Swindled : the dark history of food fraud, from poisoned candy to counterfeit coffee

by Bee Wilson

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Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy ...   (2012-01-06)

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by wppalmer

Review of Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee by Bee Wilson in 2008 published by Princeton University Press (Princeton & Oxford).

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer

I very much enjoyed this book, which I purchased to see what it added to the story of Frederick Accum, whose life I was researching at the time. I found that the writing combined genuine scholarship and the telling of fascinating stories of the various people who in different ways have contributed towards the safety of our food. I always fear that books on food may be written by `food cranks' based on their own `crackpot' theories. This book is NOT like that and gives a true and accurate account the very considerable progress that has been made in the safe preparation of common foods which in the early Nineteenth Century could contain poisonous chemicals.

The first portion of the book mainly concerns the life of Frederick Accum. Accum was born on March 29th, 1769 in Bückeburg, Germany. He moved to Britain in 1793 and five years later he started his own business as a chemical analyst and vendor of chemical equipment. He had several other chemically related positions, for example as a lecturer, an expert witness, an author and as a researcher. In 1820 he wrote a book, entitled <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003VPX97M/ref=cm_cr_asin_lnk">A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons</a>in which he described many food staples including cream, confectionary, pepper, tea, coffee, spirituous liquors, milk, meat, vegetables as being deliberately adulterated and he named those responsible. Within a few months, he was forced to return to Germany as he was observed tearing out pages from books he read at the Royal Institution and he was prosecuted for this. He died in Berlin on 28th June 1838 aged 69 years.

The story of food safety continued some forty years later with the work of Arthur Hill Hassall, who actually succeeded in persuading the British Government to take some action for the first time. Mention is made of many activists who helped improve food safety including Harvey Washington Wiley and Upton Sinclair (author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0486419231/ref=cm_cr_asin_lnk">The Jungle (Dover Thrift Editions)</a>. The story is brought up to date with information about some of the many food scandals that have occurred in developing countries.

An excellent book! Well worth your attention!

BILL PALMER




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