Terrors of the Table, by Walter Gratzer

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The Independent Culture

Gratzer's grisly revelations about nutrition make tasty reading. In Victorian times, red lead was used to redden Gloucester cheese, Fortnum's greengage jam was "improved" by the addition of copper and Parisian milk was watered three times before it reached the public. One Italian merchant in London sold ground-up umbrella handles as parmesan. But the consequences of wrong-headed authorities had a far greater impact. The "disastrous" naval physician William Cockburn believed that scurvy was caused by the work-shy nature of British sailors and advocated vinegar as a remedy. In America, John Harvey Kellogg advocated a diet that "caused much misery and perhaps shortened quite a few lives". Fortunately, there were also a number of unadulterated heroes. Two British nutritionists, Harriette Chick and Elsie Dalyell, persuaded the dubious medical authorities of Vienna in 1919 that rickets was caused by diet not infection. But the battle for good nutrition is far from won. In our own era, Gratzer slams "the huge amount of sugar in soft drinks and snacks". The dire consequences of obesity make salutary reading: "hugely increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, hormonal and joint problems..."

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