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An Evening with Deborah Blum

When the doors opened to Shannon Hall last night, an abundance of enthusiastic students and community members inundated the theater, excited to hear what the 2019-2020 Go Big Read author, Deborah Blum, had to say about her book, the history of food safety, and where the future of food regulation is headed.

Students and community members anxiously waiting for the event to begin (Photo: Olivia Poches)

The night started off with a few words from Chancellor Becky Blank, explaining to the audience what helped her choose The Poison Squad for this year’s Go Big Read book, stating that the book chronicles a prime example of the “clash” between science and business, and it shows how science can influence policy. The Chancellor’s opening remarks also welcomed the author, Deborah Blum, who is both a UW-Madison alumna and former journalism professor, back to campus.

Chancellor Becky Blank introducing Deborah Blum (Photo: Olivia Poches)


When Deborah Blum took the stage, there was plenty of enthusiasm from the crowd, including some shouts and hollers from Blum’s former UW colleagues. Blum started off by explaining how when she start working on The Poison Squad, she hadn’t intended on writing about Dr. Harvey Wiley but rather the poisons that existed at the time, saying, “anyone who knows me knows that I am a writer who really loves poisonous things.” For the rest of the lecture, Blum recounted the poisons, adulterations, and lack of regulations that plagued the food industry during the early 1900s.

Deborah Blum talking about her book,The Poison Squad. (Photo: Will Cioci- Daily Cardinal)

Blum ended her talk with a cautionary plea to the audience, that at this moment in our history, crucial food safety regulations are being rolled-back to what they were during Wiley’s time, ultimately putting consumers at risk; “I think we say regulation in a derogatory sense… but we’re actually talking about consumer protection.”

The keynote was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Dr. Hemant Shah, the director of the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The session turned into a community conversation, as Blum answered questions about food safety and regulation.

Deborah Blum’s author keynote was recorded and archived. You can find it on the homepage at The event was live-tweeted by the Go Big Read office. Follow @GoBigRead on twitter or Facebook to connect to the conversation and to find information about events relating to The Poison Squad’s topics and themes.


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant