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Bee Wilson, author of Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, debunked five classic myths on the dangers of our food supply in this week’s Outlook section in the Post. A couple were fairly obvious, but my favorite was Wilson’s smart, historical take on our latest food scares, whether from China or our own backyard:
This is the least safe time in history for eating, right? Wrong. If you find it terrifying feeding your family now, try imagining yourself in Washington or New York from the 1850s to the 1900s. You try to buy vinegar; you are sold sulfuric acid. Your peas come greened with copper, giving you a dose of heavy metal poisoning with every bite. Spices are bulked with breadcrumbs or sawdust. Children’s candies are colored with poisonous lead. Canned goods are laced with copper, tin and toxic preservatives. You buy “fresh country milk” to feed your baby, only to be sold disgusting swill milk from cows kept in stables attached to distilleries and fed on the alcoholic “mash” left over from making liquor. To disguise its thin bluish appearance, swindlers have thickened it with plaster of Paris and colored it yellow with molasses. There’s a good chance your baby will die from drinking it, as a reported 8,000 infants in New York City did in 1857.