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Go Big Read Is Searching for Its Next Book!

It’s that time of the year again… the Go Big Read Program will now be taking suggestions for the 2020-2021 Go Big Read book!

Starting in 2009, The Go Big Read Program has grown immensely and allows for both UW-Madison students and the Madison community to spark discussions around the selected book.

Title suggestions for the book will be accepted through Nov.30, when a review committee will take all suggestions into consideration before handing recommendations off to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, who makes the final decision.

The ideal selection should have the following qualities:

  • Be readable, relevant, engaging and well written.
  • Appeal to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
  • Encompass sufficient depth and scope to generate discussions from different points of view.
  • Be conducive to teaching and learning, and offer opportunities for integration into academic programs.
  • Lend itself to a variety of activities and programming.

The selection could be both fiction or non-fiction, preferably published within the past five years. Although some book selections, such as “Evicted” four years ago, have been Wisconsin-focused, that is not a requirement.

You can submit a book suggestion through the Go Big Read website.

The Go Big Read program looks forward to seeing what suggestions you can come up with!

Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Capitol Lakes Go Big Read Display

Since 2010, Capitol Lakes, a retirement community in downtown Madison, has used the Go Big Read book for community events and programming. This year was no exception.

Capitol Lakes Display (Photo: Olivia Poches)

Besides organizing talks and presentations on the topics, leading discussion groups, and making sure residents have access to the book, they also promote and provide transport to the author keynote. On October 30, they will show the keynote to residents who couldn’t make it on October 15th, and those who want to see it again. Providing access to the author keynote allows residents to participate in the community conversation about food safety and regulation.

One of the largest undertakings in support of the program is the creation of lobby display. This gives residents and visitors information about the author, the topic, resources, and events. The 2019 display included…

Community involvement is vital to the success of a common-reading program like Go Big Read. We thank Capitol Lakes for their continued support.

Olivia Poches

Student Assistant


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

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