Friday, 11 January 2008

A Nasty Taste In The Mouth

I wouldn't exactly call myself a bibliophile - despite having happily shared my bed recently with Anthony Bourdain's Omnibus Kitchen Confidential & A Cook's Tour. But when I read advance reviews of the book below, I was on the phone home within hours, suggesting a copy as a late Xmas present. I discovered that my parents were ahead of me - and in typically different fashion.

A foodie must-read, published soonDad had already discovered book reviews on the internet and downloaded an avi clip to send me. Whereas mum - a confirmed technophobe - had been avidly listening to extracts on BBC Radio 4's Book Of The Week. She'd been planning a 1958-style visit to the Post Office armed with a roll of parcel tape and a pile of stamps, but we agreed in the end that dad would pre-order from Amazon and have them deliver the book direct to me in Barcelona, 2008-style.

So, let me give you just a small idea of the literary treasure that this brilliant and incredibly talented writer is about to bring to a worldwide audience.

These days we modern consumers are quick to complain if our beer has excessive head due to carbonation in aluminium kegs and poor taste quality due to too few hops, our peas have been forced to green perfection under artificial lighting in Dutch mega-cloches or, God forbid, little Oliver is showing signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that can be traced to tartrazine and other e-additives in his sweets allowance. And quite right too - we should be very seriously concerned about these issues.

But imagine living in an age when your beer's thick frothy head was achieved with the aid of green vitriol and its strong bitter tones provided by wormwood. Imagine the attractive apple tones of your vegetables being due to the verdigris in which they have been soaked. And consider the problems of child-rearing in an age when the brightly coloured comfits bought for little Oliver in the street market were dyed with arsenic, red lead and copper acetate.

According to Bee Wilson, these were the every-day hazards faced by London's populace before A Treatise on Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons was published in 1820 by Frederick Accum and became an overnight best-seller that shook English society with its revelations of the extremes to which food retailers and manufacturers would go to sell their products. We may be less likely to die as a consequence of today's more regulated food produce, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn a valuable lesson from the shenanigans of two centuries ago. With a raft of excellent reviews already in the bag, I expect this book to do every bit as well as Accum's inspirational social-scientific treatise. I can't wait for it to arrive!

In the meantime, here's a brief extract from Swindled. I hope I don't get into trouble with the BBC for posting this. I hadn't heard of Bee Wilson before, but looking at her CV I'm willing to make a bet that we have a Hackney-born family acquaintance in common through her journalism at The New Statesman. I must ask her one day. If you're a foodie, you're going to like this. So go out and buy the book!

7 comments:

Mike said...

Your timing couldn't be more appropriate. Last night Channel 4 broadcast "Dispatches - The Truth About Your Food" in which journalist Jane Moore showed how, despite food labeling laws, we're still not being told the truth about food contents. I'll see if I can get a copy to you.

great big veg challenge said...

Thanks for pointing up this book - it looks like something I will really look forward to reading.
I have only just discovered your blog and I love it. It is so interesting.
The masterclass in texturers was great!
Charlotte at the Great Big Vegetable Challenge

William said...

It's the steroid and antibiotic shots that are a big concern here. Poor little Yankee Oliver has a moustache at ten years old and penicillin has no effect.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Will wander over to Amazon now.

I missed The Dispatches programme your Dad mentioned (if that was your Dad in first comment) but did want to see it. I think it's being repeated on MORE4 on Wednesday at 9pm.

Sorry, can't do neat links but here's a long one.
http://www.channel4.com/listings/M4/index.jsp?offset=3&position=3

Mike said...

Amanda - yes 'twas I. The Dispatches programme is available to download onto your PC or view directly from 4OD (4 On Demand), which you can sign up to for free here.

For long links, try the wonderful site tinyurl, which has been generating neat, short urls from monsters for years now without any problems.

Niamheen said...

Oh - thanks for this! Will definitely check it out.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Thanks very much Mike. I believe my husband thinks I spend some of my time living in the dark ages. He says we're already signed up for 4OD, he did try to explain and I will check it out.

Thank you for the link to tinyurl, will definitely master that one.


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