Swindled, By Bee Wilson

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The Independent Culture

Wilson's history of "food adulteration", subtitled "From poison sweets to counterfeit coffee: the dark history of food cheats", is truly fascinating. We might think that concerns about the ingredients which go into our food products are a modern phenomenon – a response to variant CJD, or salmonella outbreaks, perhaps.

Actually, it all goes far back, though it wasn't until 1820, when a German chemist exposed exactly what went into bread, wine and sweets (lead, which people knew by then was a killer, and copper, not to mention floor sweepings including chalk and clay) that the general public was made aware of how much danger they and their families were placed in by their everyday menu. But laws against food adulteration were resisted for fear that they would affect free trade – yes, profit was put before people long before the present day.

This is the kind of social history that takes a small, everyday aspect of our lives and makes of it something truly revelatory and informative.

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