Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning in History

Overview

Did food poisoning play a role in the Salem witch trials, leading to the hanging of nineteen men and women? Which poison recently laced the food of Russian ex-KGB agent Viktor Litvinenko, and how did it kill him? In Death in the Pot, internationally renowned food expert Morton Satin documents several culinary mishaps and misdeeds in an engrossing narrative that spans the ancient world to the present day.
Historic events both tragic and bizarre have resulted from adulterated ...
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Overview

Did food poisoning play a role in the Salem witch trials, leading to the hanging of nineteen men and women? Which poison recently laced the food of Russian ex-KGB agent Viktor Litvinenko, and how did it kill him? In Death in the Pot, internationally renowned food expert Morton Satin documents several culinary mishaps and misdeeds in an engrossing narrative that spans the ancient world to the present day.
Historic events both tragic and bizarre have resulted from adulterated food. In the fifth century BCE, the great plague of Athens, probably caused by contaminated cereals, led to the defeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War. In the prescientific Middle Ages, illnesses resulting from contaminated food were often attributed to the wrath of God or malevolent spirits. Heavily infectious ergot induced a spasmodic muscle condition, which the Church named "St. Anthony’s Fire" and interpreted as retribution by God on heretics. Similarly, in seventeenth-century America the hallucinogenic symptoms of moldy grain were thought by Puritans to be signs of witchcraft. Even the madness of King George III, which played a role in the American Revolution, may have been induced by accidental arsenic poisoning.
In the twentieth century, Satin recounts the efforts of modern industrial societies to make food safer; in some cases these efforts were heroic. For example, in the early days of the Food and Drug Administration a "Poison Squad" was formed, consisting of young scientists who willingly acted as guinea pigs to test the toxic effects of chemical additives. Today, the government has focused on the hazards of food bioterrorism. Satin concludes by describing measures taken to protect the public from intentional and unintentional poisoning, as well as recounting recent poisoning incidents.
Both a fascinating glimpse into history from a unique angle and an authoritative reference work on food safety, Death in the Pot offers entertaining and informative reading for laypersons as well as experts in food technology and public health.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this unexpectedly timely account, Satin makes a case for how food poisoning has affected human events over time....[H]is speculations are fascinating....[M]any of the details are quite arresting."
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Satin provides a fascinating account of how food and wine toxicity changed the course of history. This is a spellbinding read for anyone interested in food, wine, science, or history."
CHRISTINE M. BRUHN, PhD
Director, Center for Consumer Research
Department of Food Science and Technology
University of California, Davis

"Death in the Pot delivers equal portions of wit and wisdom in an entertaining and informative cautionary history. Morton Satin’s examples span pre-historic times to the latest headlines and remind us of our intimate connection with the food that we eat and its potential to deliver our own destruction. Food poisoning is a topic that could easily become grim, but Death in the Pot is inoculated with enough humor to make it all very readable."
CHRIS FINDLAY, PhD
Councilor of the Institute of Food Technologists
Consultant to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

Publishers Weekly

In this unexpectedly timely account, Satin makes a case for how food poisoning has affected human events over time, although he acknowledges that there's not much scientific evidence for his theories. Still, his speculations are fascinating. Satin, a molecular biologist who has worked for many years in the food industry (Food Alert! The Ultimate Sourcebook for Food Safety), relates dramatic examples of possibly toxic food and drink. He considers various theories to explain what he says is a case of mass food poisoning in the Bible, when the Israelites in the desert died after eating quail. The epidemic of lead poisoning during the Roman Empire was due to the preparation of wine in lead-lined containers and, according to the author, contributed to Rome's downfall. Leapfrogging through time, Satin describes how Westerners living in Hong Kong were deliberately poisoned with arsenic in their bread during the Second Opium War in 1857. Of particular interest is a lengthy overview of the evolution of food and beverage standards in the U.S.; first established in the late 19th century, the rules stopped the practice of harmful adulteration by unscrupulous manufacturers. He also deals with the recent outbreaks of E. coliand the possibility of bioterrorism. Though the account rambles, many of the details are quite arresting. Illus. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591025146
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Pages: 262
  • Sales rank: 1,444,693
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Morton Satin is currently the director of technical and regulatory affairs at the Salt Institute. He recently retired as the director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Agribusiness Program. A molecular biologist, he is the author of Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History and Coffee Talk: The Stimulating Story of the World's Most Popular Brew.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     11
Foreword     13
Preface     15
Introduction     21
What Evidence is There of Foodborne Diseases in Antiquity?     25
Bones and Bones     25
Evidence in Teeth     27
Coprolites     28
Mummies     29
Bog Bodies     29
The Analysis of Evidence     30
The Mass of Evidence from Historical Accounts     33
The Ancient World
The Hebrews and Egyptians (4000 BCE-100 CE)     41
Prehistory     41
Revolution Through Evolution     46
Ancient Egypt     47
The Biblical Record     49
A Tale of Quail     52
My Asclepius is Dragon     61
The Greeks and Romans (1200 BCE-500 CE)     67
The Gory That was Greece     68
Beware of Greeks Bearing Honey     71
Get the Lead Out     74
When in Doubt, Assume the Gout     81
The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages (500-1500 CE)     89
There's Fungus Among Us     90
St. Anthony's Fire     95
Early Modern Times
The Renaissance and the Enlightenment (1300-1750 CE)     103
In WitchMold was Salem Cast?     107
What Bugged Little Louis     111
The Modern Era
The Industrial Revolution (1750-1900 CE)     121
Voyage of the Damned-From Cans to Cannibals!     122
The Staff of Life of Death? Hong Kong's Esing Bakery     139
Modern Times (1900 CE-Present Day)     149
Sinclair's Jungle and the Wiley FDA     150
Typhoid Mary, Quite Contrary     166
Ginger Ails     175
Mercury, the Messenger of Frauds     186
The Drain in Spain     193
In Vino Veritox     197
Fugu Fish-Bonzai or Zombie?     203
The Quick and the Dead     208
Bioterrorism and the Food Supply     218
The Politics of Poison     232
Epilogue     247
Index     249
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