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The Poison Squad Primary Sources Exhibit

Memorial Library has just recently put together an exhibit to showcase the primary sources available at UW-Madison that pertain to this year’s Go Big Read book, The Poison Squad. The exhibit covers everything from Wiley’s life and work to other literature about food adulteration. Check it out!

Autobiography of Harvey Wiley

Wiley’s Life and Farm

Message from the President to Congress about the stock yards of Chicago

Lyman Kehler report on Habit Forming Agents



One Alumni Place Interview with Deborah Blum

Photo: WI Alumni Association

Last month, the Wisconsin Alumni Association posted an interview with our 2019-2020 Go Big Read author, Deborah Blum which was conducted by WAA Chief Alumni Officer Sarah Schutt for One on One at One Alumni Place.

When asked how The Poison Squad has been received, Blum told Shutt that it has been the best received book that she’s done, even garnering positive responses from government officials. Blum accredits the fact that she’s had so little push-back from the book due to having a historian look through her manuscript before she sent it along to her publishers. The book and Blum’s research has been so well received that she’s even been giving talks to agriculture and food safety officials.

Schutt then went on to ask how Blum had felt when she first had found out that her book had been chosen as the 2019-2020 Go Big Read book, to which Blum discussed what an honor it was for her because not only is the Go Big Read Programs the “best common read program in the country,” but Blum continues on the say that some of the best books she’s read have also been chosen to be the Go Big Read book in previous years.

Blum also utilized this interview as a way to bring attention to and call people’s attention to the state of our federal food regulations. Blum states that “we are in a time of aggressive roll backs” when it comes to food safety standards and protocols. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906, which was passed with Dr. Wiley’s Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and was a result of the disturbing accounts of what Upton Sinclair wrote about of the Chicago meat-packing plants in The Jungle, made it so meat processing plants had to have a government inspector present in order to uphold a certain standard of product. In this interview, Blum points out that now, over a hundred years since the Meat Inspection Act was passed, roll backs are happening, currently allowing pork processing plants to hire their own inspectors rather than having government inspectors. Other meat industries are expecting those roll backs to soon be applied to them as well. With already numerous rollbacks on water, air, and wildlife regulations, American consumers are now more at risk for food related illnesses; Blum mentions a recent romaine lettuce recall was a direct result of these regulation rollbacks as the recall was due to fecal matter in the water as the result of a rollback on sanitation levels of water for irrigation.

Blum’s parting words of advice were for consumers to be conscious label readers because there are still plenty of low-grade harmful chemicals in our food today that can add up to a harmful level quickly if we are not conscious of what is in our food.

To watch the full interview, check out the Wisconsin Alumni Association website.


Olivia Poches

Go Big Read Office, Student Assistant

American Experience: The Poison Squad

Photo: PBS

On Tuesday, January 28, PBS’s historical series, American Experience, aired an episode that focused on Dr. Harvey W. Wiley and his pioneering work with food safety and regulation. The episode was also primarily based off of this year’s Go Big Read book, The Poison Squad. Our 2019-2020 Go Big Read author, Deborah Blum was also to be seen in this episode as she provided valuable commentary and context throughout the covering of Wiley’s and the Poison Squad’s story.

The Poison Squad American Experience covered a significant portion of the information that Blum writes about in her book, starting with the horrendous conditions that a majority of the food was processed in, as well as the harmful additives that corporations would utilize in their products in order to increase their own profit margins. With pictures to go along with the horrors that Blum describes in her book, the consequences of the unregulated food industry of the era were brought to life by American Experience.

To watch clips or read articles about the episode and the issues that it discusses, check out the American Experience website.

Olivia Poches

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

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