Book Review: Death In The Pot

Death In The Pot:  The Impact Of Food Poisoning On History, by Morton Satin

There is a surprisingly large amount of importance that food poisoning has on the course of history, and this author demonstrates that there is a highly significant relationship between the problems of logistics, and a wide variety of health problems including chronic conditions as well as sudden death.  Whether we are dealing with poisoned mushrooms and the truism that there are bold mushroom hunters and old mushroom hunters but no bold and old mushroom hunters or the effects of lead on gout as well as Franklin’s ill-fated Northwest Passage expedition, the author demonstrates that food and illnesses that result from food poisoning have had an important impact on history and continue to do so to this day.  Given our fondness for food and the vulnerability of our food supply to adulteration, it is likely that food poisoning will consider to have a powerful impact on history whether we become ill because of negligence or active malice on the part of those who make, transport, prepare, or corrupt our food.  This has been going on for a long time and it will likely go on for a long time in the future, and so this book is not only an exciting read but is likely to remain relevant.

This book of about 250 pages begins with acknowledgements, a foreword, a preface, and an introduction where the author defends his desire to write about food poisoning and its role in history, as well as a creative example of what food poisoning would have looked like in prehistory, with a discussion of evidence of food-borne diseases in antiquity, evidence in bones and teeth as well as mummies and bog bodies, and even the massive of evidence of food poisoning that exists in historical accounts.  The first part of the book covers food poisoning in ancient history in two chapters, the first dealing with the Egyptians and Hebrews, including a lot of evidence from the Bible, and the second examining the problem of food poisoning for the Greeks and Romans.  After that a single chapter covers food poisoning in the Middle Ages, including St. Anthony’s Fire (3).  Then there is a chapter that discusses food poisoning in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, including the Salem Witch Trial (4).  Finally, the book concludes with a discussion of food poisoning during the industrial revolution (5) as well as modern times (6), after which there is an epilogue and an index.

Food poisoning is a reality that affects a lot of people in the contemporary world.  When companies bottle rapeseed oil and label it as extra virgin olive oil, when unsanitary practices make e.coli rage through the harvesting of spinach and sprouts, when companies undercook meat and when private canning efforts and the risks of raw milk lead to sickness on the part of even those people who wish to take responsibility for their own, it is clear that food poisoning hits us all regardless of what food choices we make.  Should we grow our own food or seek to buy from sources that are not adulterated, we face the dangers that have always stalked humanity when it comes to our food supply, and should we trust to industrial food processes we will suffer food poisoning from other directions.  This book does a good job at reminding us that there are always risks when it comes to food and that we can be poisoned by food in a variety of different ways.  Given that it is all too easy to only blame one side and not the other when it comes to various food wars in our time that are likely to continue so long as our health is threatened by what people are doing with our food, which is likely to be an ongoing problem.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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