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Books Similar to The Poison Squad

Food’s History and Future

  • The Jungle- Upton Sinclair
  • The Way We Eat Now: How the Food Revolution Has Transformed Our Lives, Our Bodies, and Our World- Bee Wilson
  • The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World- Amanda Little
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meal- Michael Pollan
  • An Edible History of Humanity- Tom Standage
  • The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food- Dan Barber
  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything- Linda Kang and Nate Pedersen
  • The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities- Will Allen

Food Science

  • Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat- Marion Nestle
  • Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives – Mark Miodownik
  • Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats- Maryn McKenna
  • Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why it Matters- Gordon M Shepherd
  • Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us- Michael Moss
  • The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor- Mark Schatzker
  • The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food- Ted Genoways

Food Safety

  • Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety- Timothy D. Lytton
  • Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat- Jeff Benedict

Food Politics

  • Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health – Marion Nestle

Food Labeling

  • Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth behind Food Labeling- Peter Laufer

Food Law

  • Habeas Codfish: Reflection on Food and the Law- Barry Levenson
  • The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business- Christopher Leonard
  • Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Public Health- Nicholas Freudenberg

Food Inequities

  • The New Food Activism: Opposition, Cooperation, and Collective Action- Alison Hope Alkon
  • Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability- Alison Hope Alkon
  • Free For All: Fixing School Food in America- Janet Poppendieck
  • Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System- Raj Patel
  • Eating Animals- Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States- Seth Holmes
  • Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism- Julie Guthman

The American Diet

  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal- Eric Schlosser
  • All You Can Eat?: How Hungry is America?- Joel Berg
  • The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite- David A Kessler
  • Fast Food: The Good, the Bad and the Hungry- Andrew F Smith
  • The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table: Tracie McMillan
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto- Michael Pollan

Food Philosophy

  • Philosophy of Food- David M. Kaplan
  • Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy- Carolyn Korsemeyer
  • The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Out Food Choices Matter- Peter Singer and Jim Mason

Food and Agriculture

  • Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food- Wendell Berry
  • Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future- Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
  • The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture- Wendell Berry


  • The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food- Ben Hewitt
  • Food and Society: Principles and Paradoxes- Amy Guptill, Denise A. Copelton, Betsy Lucal


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Go Big Read at Convocation

Chancellor Rebecca Blank helps distribute complimentary copies of “The Poison Squad,” the 2019-20 selection for Go Big Read, at Convocation. PHOTO: BRYCE RICHTER

It is that time of year again where we welcome the incoming freshman to UW-Madison at convocation with their own copies of this year’s Go Big Read book! This year we gave away over 6,000 books to our new Badgers: wow! Welcome to a new school year with a new Go Big Read book, covering discussion topics ranging from food science, policy, and regulation to consumer protection and rights.


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Deborah Blum Interview with WORT

Cover photo of The Poison Squad.

On Monday (8/26), Deborah Blum, the author of our 2019-2020 Go Big Read book, The Poison Squad, participated in an interview with Madison-based radio station WORT-FM. Blum explained how she came upon the story of the forgotten but influential scientist, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and his revolutionary food studies. Listen to the entire interview on WORT’s website.



UW-Madison Food Science Influencer: Stephen Babcock

Anyone who has been to or is from Madison has at least heard of Babcock ice cream, but what is the importance of this Babcock guy?

Stephen Moulton Babcock was born in Bridgewater, New York on October 22 1843. At the age of forty-five, Babcock became the chief chemist at the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station and was also appointed as a professor of agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin.

The reason why UW-Madison has such amazing ice cream named after Babcock is because he discovered a technique for consumers to measure the quality of their purchased dairy products, as well as made influential changes in the production of dairy products to make them safer for consumers.

In 1890, Babcock developed a test to figure out the amount of butterfat that was present in milk in order to detect any adulterations that were performed by some farmers, such as adding water to or skimming cream from the milk. This test was an inexpensive and simple way for consumers to test the purity of their milk and quickly became the industry standard for testing milk quality.

The Babcock Butterfat Test was performed by using sulfuric acid to release the fat from its normal suspension by centrifuging and then diluting it. Those testing the milk would then be able to directly measure the percentage of fat by observing it in the neck of a specifically designed test bottle. The simplicity of this test allowed for it to be practical for even persons without scientific training.

Two schools boys performing the Babcock Butterfat Test

One of Dr. Harvey Wiley’s biggest obstacles during his time at Good Housekeeping was the quality of milk and ice cream that was sold on the market, and he regularly refers back to Babcock and his revolutionary adulteration test.

Babcock also went on to develop the process for cold curing cheese in 1900 with the help of Harry L. Russell, which later became the widely accepted practice for cheese curing in the dairy industry.

The most influential discovery of Babcock’s was his work in the biological equivalence of chemically similar feeds from different crops which he worked on with EV McCollum, who later discovers Vitamin A as a vital component in animal feed in 1913, E.B. Hart, the scientist who developed a method for stabilizing iodine in salt in the 1930s which is still used to ensure adequate iodine in human diets, and graduate student, Harry Steenbock, who would later ascertain the significance of Vitamin D, essentially curing rickets by 1924.

Stephen Babcock died in Madison, WI on July 1, 1931, but his legacy and the importance of food science lives on at UW-Madison, home of the Diary Research Center, a renowned food science department, and the Food Research Institute


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

The American Chamber of Horrors

Dr. Harvey Wiley spent a good majority of his time at the US Department of Chemistry trying to push through a law that would set some standard for honest food labeling and ensuring consumer safety, resulting in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Though this act was a good first step for the pure food movement, there were some inadequacies and limitations that ultimately made the law ineffective.

Despite the passing of Wiley’s law, after Wiley’s death in 1930, manufacturers continued to put out faulty products at the cost of the consumer’s well-being, prompting Kallet and Schlink’s 1933 book, 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs. This book then also prompted the FDA to put on a showing of faulty products for lawmakers to see how the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had to be amended.

This display was later dubbed “The American Chamber of Horrors” by a reporter who accompanied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. This display of “horrors” consisted of products that had either inaccurate labeling or caused harm to consumers yet were out of the reach of the law.

The exhibit was started by the FDA’s Chief Education Officer, Ruth deForest Lamb, and their Chief Inspector, George Larrick

Ruth deForest Lamb

George Larrick



Many of the products that were in the Chamber of Horrors were out of the reach of the law because the Pure Food and Drug act did not cover cosmetics and only made misleading claims on labels unlawful (untrue claims were still not monitored in advertising and there were no restrictions on food packaging fraud).

Products with INACCURATE labeling:

Bowman’s Abortion Remedy: This product falsely claimed that it would treat Contagious Abortion in cattle. After the FDA won a seizure action against Bowman’s, the manufacturers took the misleading claims off of their labels and implemented them into their advertising because that was not technically illegal under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Crazy Water Crystals: This product was allegedly derived from health-giving Crazy Mineral Water found in Texas and made claims to treat Bright’s disease, rheumatism, liver disorders, etc. Those claims were later moved from their labels to their advertising, just as with Bowman’s

Flavoring Extracts: As flavoring extracts were usually the most expensive items in the grocery store, they were also the products that were most often the source of packaging fraud. The two bottles to the left were both labeled as 2 oz bottles, but there is a very clear and significant difference between the two bottles with the labels removed.

Egg Noodles: Due to their nutritive value and generally higher price tag, these noodles were another common source of labeling fraud. As shown in the image to the right, producers would defraud customers by marketing their products as egg noodles, when in reality, they were not.


Products with Dangerous Side-Effects:

Dinitrophenol: This industrial chemical was utilized to accelerate the metabolism and produce weight loss, but ultimately, caused fatal blood disorders, cataracts, and other serious side effects. Because of the substances classification as a cosmetic products rather than a drug, it was beyond the reach of the law.

Koremlu: This supposedly revolutionary beauty product eliminated unwanted hair, becoming a very sought after product and selling over 120,000 jars within its first year. The main depilatory agent was thallium acetate, which was a common rodenticide that can cause neuro-muscular damage, respiratory problems, blindness, and permanent hair-loss. One woman reportedly lost her teeth, eyesight, ability to walk, and her job due to Koremlu.

Lash Lure: A coal tar-based eyelash and eyebrow dye which contained a toxic dye that was highly irritating and caused eyebrow and eyelash loss, as well as vision impairment and even blindness.


Othine: This product utilized mercury as a means to remove brown spots and lighten skin, ultimately, putting consumers at risk of bone deterioration, tooth loss, neurological, pulmonary, and renal damage, cognitive and sensory impairment, and even death.

Peralga: An advertised weight- loss remedy that contained amidopyrine and barbiturates which led to agranuloctyosis, a dangerous loss of white blood cells, in some women, resulting in an inability to fight off infection and often times death.


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

100,000,000 Guinea Pigs

Written in 1933 by Arthur Kallet and F.J. Schlink, 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics recounts how the United States had been turned into one giant experiment for producers and manufacturers at the expense of the consumer — “This book is written in the interest of the consumer, who does not yet realize that he is being used as a guinea pig.”

Both Kallet and Schlink were pioneering forces behind the consumer product testing agency, Consumers’ Research, Inc., which focused on providing transparency of products for consumers.

This highly influential book prompted the FDA to put on an exhibit to prompt a new and more effective law than Wiley’s 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. This exhibit was later dubbed by a reporter as the “American Chamber of Horrors.”

Though the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was a victory for Wiley and his poison squad, if not properly enforced, the law was rather ineffective as Kallet and Schlink point out: “The Federal Food and Drug Act prohibits false labeling of drugs shipped across state lines; but if no claims are made on the label, if the ingredients are not stated on the label, the Act does not apply.” Manufacturers were also not required to prove that the substances that they use in their products are safe for use or consumption, therefore, many manufacturers were careless with what they included in their products.

According to The New York Times review of the book, due to the lack of laws, if a manufacturer’s product caused any significant health problems, the worst that would happen would be the manufacturer would have to maybe pay a small fine.

The interesting aspect of this exposé is that Kallet and Schlink put the value of the consumers’ lives into quantifiable values. They valued every consumer’s life at the value of $500 a year. Collectively, with taking into account that value of $500 per year, the manufacturers who care very little about the safety of their products cost the United States 625,000,000 years of life due to too-early deaths, equating to $300 billion, which is almost $6 trillion in today’s dollar value.

The two authors also break down how ill-equipped the FDA was to adequately uphold the Food and Drug Act of 1906. With only sixty-five inspectors, the FDA was responsible for inspecting about $20 billion worth of food and drugs ($400 billion today): that equates to one inspector responsible for about $308 million worth of food and drugs.

100,000,000 Guinea Pigs played an important role in the history of American food policy because it, once again, renewed the resistance towards adulterated food products, mislabeling of products, and the practices of manufacturers that occur at the expense of the consumers. This book, along with other factors, prompted Senator Royal S. Copeland of New York to introduce a new bill that would amend the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, leading to another layer of protection for consumers.


Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

America’s Food Policy Timeline

For the majority of his life, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley fought for unadulterated food and producer transparency. It’s been eighty-nine years since his death in 1930, but his legacy has lived on as food safety and labeling requirements have changed and improved with more customer concern and transparency. Here is America’s food policy timeline.


  • Senator Royal S. Copeland of New York introduces a bill to amend the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906
  • The FDA opens its “Chamber of Horrors” which “displayed some of the rankest violations of public safety in the promotion of various drugs, cosmetics, and therapeutic devices (Natenberg 110)
    • Eyelash dye that resulted in blindness
    • Hair dyes that caused systemic poisoning
    • Other dangerous elixirs, radium waters, and liniments

1937: 107 people die from an Elixir of Sulfanilamide which was mixed with diethylene glycol and never tested for toxicity

1938: Senator Copeland’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act passes, making it so “Any food, drug, therapeutic device, or cosmetic that was impure, dangerous, or misbranded could be seized and condemned” (110)

1949: FDA publishes the first “black book” which provided guidance and procedure for the appraisal of the toxicity of chemicals in food

1950: Congress authorizes hearings on Chemical in Food Products under House Resolution Number 323 (continuing into 1951 under House Resolution number 71)

    • Authorizes standards of identity, quality, and fill-of container
    • Authorizes factory inspections
    • Delaney Committee starts inspecting chemicals in foods and cosmetics

1953: Factory Inspection Amendment passes. This amendment clarifies previous laws and requires the FDA to give manufacturers written reports of the conditions observed during inspections and analyses of factory samples

1954: Miller Pesticide Amendment set a pesticide safety limits


    • Food Additives Amendment is enacted, requiring manufacturers of new foods to establish safety of their products
    • Delaney proviso prohibits approval of any additives that are shown to induce cancer ineither humans or animals
    • FDA releases a report of nearly 200 substances that are generally recognized as safe

1960: Color Additive Amendment is enacted, requiring manufacturers to establish safety of color additives in foods, drugs, and cosmetics

1962: Consumer Bill of Rights is proposed by President John F. Kennedy which includes that consumers have a right to safety and information and right to be heard

1966: Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is passed, requiring honest and informative labels

1982: FDA publishes the Red Book, which is an updated version of the Black book, also known as the Toxicology Principles for the Safety Assessment of Direct Food Additives and Color Additives in Food

1990: Nutrition Labeling and Education Act is passed

    • Requiring all packaged foods to bear nutrition labeling and all health claims for foods to be consistent with the first standards set by the Secretary of Health and Human Services
    • Mandating nutrition labeling on food products- no longer voluntary
    • Requiring nutrition labeling on imported food as well
    • Nutrition Label information based on serving size not package size
    • Sets standard and violations that states were not required to enforce
    • Defines difference between butter, margarine, and spread
    • Defines difference between fruit drink and fruit juice

1996: Food Quality Protection Act- amends the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, eliminating application of the Delaney proviso to pesticides

2003: Requiring labels to include trans fat content

2004: Passage of Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act which requires the labeling of common allergens: peanuts, soybeans, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat.

2010: Food Safety Modernization Act

    • Requires Food Safety Plans for all FDA firms
    • Domestic and Foreign food facilities must re-register every two years
    • Expanding the scope of FDA’s authority to detain food and inspect records
    • Establishing standards for consumed-raw ag produce that pose high-risk to consumers
    • Regulations on food transportation
    • Tracking and tracing food
    • Mandatory recall
    • Decontamination plan

2016: Congress amends the Agriculture Market Act authorizing the USDA AMS to establish regulations for labeling foods containing GMOs

Natenberg, Maurice. The Legacy of Doctor Wiley. 1957

Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office 

Three Local, Pure Food Organizations to Pay Attention To

A big takeaway from this year’s Go Big Read book, The Poison Squad, is keeping consumers informed on what is being put into their food through adequate labeling. For quite some time, Madison, and a lot of Wisconsin as well, has been making huge efforts in the local/ pure food movement, focusing on supporting local farms and food producers and knowing where your food came from.

Here are three food movement groups/organizations that have had a large impact throughout the state of Wisconsin

REAP Food Group: Founded in 1997 as the Dane County Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food Group, the now REAP Food group works to “grow healthful, just, and sustainable local food systems- meaning good food, grown well is accessible to all.”

Their primary focus is to connect consumers directly to the farmers that produce their food; their website has a list of local farms, businesses, restaurants, and farmers markets that sell directly to consumers. REAP Food Group has also started programs like Farm to School and Farm to Business. These programs do just as their names suggest; they provide farm fresh food to schools throughout Madison and connect restaurants and businesses with local farms, promoting the use of local and sustainable food.

Slow Food (UW & Madison group): Though this is a national organization with different chapters throughout the country, the Slow Food UW and Madison chapter were among the first community and campus, Slow Food chapters.

Slow Food UW, in its practices, focuses on the right to food, sustainability, transparency, community, culture, and equity, making quality, local food available to everyone. Once a week, both Slow Food UW and Slow Food Madison put on their own respective dinners with local products and share those meals with the broader community at a reasonable price. For the Slow Food organization, the focus is not only on the quality of food, but also on the experience that you have while enjoying it.

Dane County Farmers’ Market: If you have ever been around the capitol square on a Saturday between April and November, then you have at least witnessed the large crowds of people heading to the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

The market was started in 1972 by the then Madison mayor, Bill Dyke, to bring together the urban and rural people of Wisconsin. Today, the market is a convenient opportunity to buy fresh, local products directly from the people who grew/ produced them (as well as getting as many free cheese curd samples as possible). With the mission to promote the sale of Wisconsin-grown products and educate consumers of the benefits of locally grown and prepared food, the Dane County Farmers’ Market is currently the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country. Since the market started in 1972, there has been one rule that has been continually enforced; the products must be Wisconsin grown.

Supporting local food movements not only helps Wisconsin farmers and producers, but knowing where your food comes from also keeps you from asking, “I wonder what’s in it.”


Olivia Poches 

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

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Deborah Blum and “The Poison Squad”

Now that we have announced our awesome Go Big Read book for 2019/2020, here’s a little more about the book and it’s author, Deborah Blum.

The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century follows the story and struggle of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and his fight for pure, unadulterated food.

Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department in 1883, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, “The Poison Squad.”

The Poison Squad has been chosen for the 2019/2020 Go Big Read book .

Through tumultuous government scandals and shifting political tides, Dr. Wiley continued to push for restrictions on harmful preservatives, like formaldehyde and borax, and government regulations on labeling requirements: ultimately, leading to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, also known as “Dr. Wiley’s Law, which established the basis of food quality regulation still prevalent today.

This year’s Go Big Read book was written by Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author, Deborah Blum.

The Poison Squad author, Deborah Blum

Deborah Blum attended UW-Madison for graduate school and studied science writing in the journalism school’s specialized reporting program; ultimately, continuing on to become a professor of journalism for UW for eighteen years from 1997 to 2015. Blum has written for many notable news outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Scientific American. Today, she is the director for MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program and publisher of the award-winning magazine, Undark.

For more information on Deborah Blum and The Poison Squad, check out the publisher’s website: The Poison Squad

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