Did food poisoning play a role in the Salem witch trials, leading to the hanging of nineteen men and women? Which poison recently laced the food of Russian ex-KGB agent Viktor Litvinenko, and how did it kill him? In Death in the Pot, internationally renowned food expert Morton Satin documents several culinary mishaps and misdeeds in an engrossing narrative that spans the ancient world to the present day.
Historic events both tragic and bizarre have resulted from adulterated food. In the fifth century BCE, the great plague of Athens, probably caused by contaminated cereals, led to the defeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War. In the prescientific Middle Ages, illnesses resulting from contaminated food were often attributed to the wrath of God or malevolent spirits. Heavily infectious ergot induced a spasmodic muscle condition, which the Church named "St. Anthony’s Fire" and interpreted as retribution by God on heretics. Similarly, in seventeenth-century America the hallucinogenic symptoms of moldy grain were thought by Puritans to be signs of witchcraft. Even the madness of King George III, which played a role in the American Revolution, may have been induced by accidental arsenic poisoning.
In the twentieth century, Satin recounts the efforts of modern industrial societies to make food safer; in some cases these efforts were heroic. For example, in the early days of the Food and Drug Administration a "Poison Squad" was formed, consisting of young scientists who willingly acted as guinea pigs to test the toxic effects of chemical additives. Today, the government has focused on the hazards of food bioterrorism. Satin concludes by describing measures taken to protect the public from intentional and unintentional poisoning, as well as recounting recent poisoning incidents.
Both a fascinating glimpse into history from a unique angle and an authoritative reference work on food safety, Death in the Pot offers entertaining and informative reading for laypersons as well as experts in food technology and public health.
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Morton Satin is currently the director of technical and regulatory affairs at the Salt Institute. He recently retired as the director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Agribusiness Program. A molecular biologist, he is the author of Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History and Coffee Talk: The Stimulating Story of the World's Most Popular Brew.From Publishers Weekly:
In this unexpectedly timely account, Satin makes a case for how food poisoning has affected human events over time, although he acknowledges that there's not much scientific evidence for his theories. Still, his speculations are fascinating. Satin, a molecular biologist who has worked for many years in the food industry ( Food Alert! The Ultimate Sourcebook for Food Safety), relates dramatic examples of possibly toxic food and drink. He considers various theories to explain what he says is a case of mass food poisoning in the Bible, when the Israelites in the desert died after eating quail. The epidemic of lead poisoning during the Roman Empire was due to the preparation of wine in lead-lined containers and, according to the author, contributed to Rome's downfall. Leapfrogging through time, Satin describes how Westerners living in Hong Kong were deliberately poisoned with arsenic in their bread during the Second Opium War in 1857. Of particular interest is a lengthy overview of the evolution of food and beverage standards in the U.S.; first established in the late 19th century, the rules stopped the practice of harmful adulteration by unscrupulous manufacturers. He also deals with the recent outbreaks of E. coli and the possibility of bioterrorism. Though the account rambles, many of the details are quite arresting. Illus. (Aug.)
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