Off the Shelf

Learn about the fight for food safety


Mark Luekehoelter, Librarian

As we head into the holiday seasons, we’ll all probably be thinking a lot about food – eating food, that is. We probably all take it a little for granted that the food we buy from the stores is relatively safe to eat, and that’s a good thing. There was a time, though, when it couldn’t be taken for granted, and perhaps we should still be giving a little more thought to the quality and safety of the food we purchase and consume today.

The Go Big Read Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison program annually engages members of its campus community and beyond in a shared, academically focused reading experience.

Many instructors and students at Madison College participate in the program. This year the Go Big Read Program chose Deborah Blum’s “The Poison Squad” as its selection for this year.

“The Poison Squad” follows the story of Dr. Harvey Washington and his colleagues, who near the turn of the 20th century vigorously investigated the safety of food and drink in America. Specifically, they focused on the increasing use of some dubious preservatives used with foods, including things like borax and formaldehyde. Through their work, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, establishing food quality regulations still prevalent today.

As much as we would like to think things have improved since the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, books like “Real Food, Fake Food” by Larry Olmstead, “Pandora’s Lunchbox” by Melanie Warner, “Eat, Drink, and Be Wary” by Charles Duncan, and “Twinkie, Deconstructed” by Steve Ettlinger point out many reasons why we should more critically evaluate our food purchasing habits. Those books, and multiple copies of “The Poison Squad,” are available for checkout at all of the Madison College Campus Libraries.

In addition to those books, use the subject headings food additives, food labeling, food law, food safety, or processed food when searching the Madison College Library’s catalog and databases to come across a cornucopia of recommended books, articles, videos, and web sites.

The Madison College Library’s Food Issues Research Guide also provides links to many helpful sites and resources.

One of the links at that guide, the USDA National Agricultural Library’s Food and Nutrition Information Center offers a lot of reliable, current, and easy-to-read articles on making the best healthy food choices.

Enjoy those delicious holiday meals, but as you’re preparing them, spend a little time thinking about the quality of the food going into them. Bon appetite!