Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226377926 Published December 2019
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Pure Adulteration

Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food

Benjamin R. Cohen

Pure Adulteration

Benjamin R. Cohen

320 pages | 61 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 9780226377926 Published December 2019
E-book $10.00 to $35.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226667096 Published December 2019
In the latter nineteenth century, extraordinary changes in food and agriculture gave rise to new tensions in the ways people understood, obtained, trusted, and ate their food. This was the Era of Adulteration, and its concerns have carried forward to today: How could you tell the food you bought was the food you thought you bought? Could something manufactured still be pure? Is it okay to manipulate nature far enough to produce new foods but not so far that you question its safety and health? How do you know where the line is? And who decides?
In Pure Adulteration, Benjamin R. Cohen uses the pure food crusades to provide a captivating window onto the origins of manufactured foods and the perceived problems they wrought. Cohen follows farmers, manufacturers, grocers, hucksters, housewives, politicians, and scientific analysts as they struggled to demarcate and patrol the ever-contingent, always contested border between purity and adulteration, and as, at the end of the nineteenth century, the very notion of a pure food changed.
In the end, there is (and was) no natural, prehuman distinction between pure and adulterated to uncover and enforce; we have to decide. Today’s world is different from that of our nineteenth-century forebears in many ways, but the challenge of policing the difference between acceptable and unacceptable practices remains central to daily decisions about the foods we eat, how we produce them, and what choices we make when buying them.
Table of Maps

1: The Appearance of Being Earnest

Part I: The Culture of Adulteration

2: Surfaces and Interiors
3: Household, Grocer, and Trust

Part II: The Geography of Adulteration

4: Margarine in a Dairy World
5: Oil without Olives and Lard without Hogs
6: Glucose in the Empire of Sugar

Part III: The Analysis of Adulteration

7: Analysis as Border Patrol
8: Food and the Government Chemist

Epilogue: The Persistence of Adulteration
Review Quotes
"As Benjamin R. Cohen notes in his thoughtful book Pure Adulteration, it is difficult to find a time or a place in history that lacks purveyors of food and drink attempting to cheat their unsuspecting customers. [Cohen] brings up the age-old problem of adulteration as essential context for his more recent case study of the underlying issues. . . . [He asks] a range of provocative and intriguing questions about U.S. food systems. What, for example, does this fight for food purity tell us about the changing nature of the country; its shifting culture, commerce, and politics; and its emerging scientific power?"
Literary Review of Canada
"Cohen is a historian and engineer, and his book is erudite and whimsical, richly documented with vintage advertisements and production statistics. . . . [He] walks us through a formative moment."
Douglas C. Sackman, author of Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden
"Cohen has assembled a compelling set of stories, recounting the deeds of food charlatans and chemists of various stripes, and uses these stories to open up his serious exploration of the place of food in modernity’s radical reorientation of relations with nature. It’s a work of revelation, uncovering the many hidden ingredients that have gone into the foods we consume."
Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920
"A richly detailed, intellectually sophisticated account of the conflicts at the core of our personal and social identities. Cohen wears his learning lightly and knows how to tell a good story, so the book is a pleasure to read as well as a fresh and illuminating perspective on a central theme in American cultural history."
Susanne Freidberg, author of Fresh: A Perishable History
"What makes some foods pure and real and others not? Cohen traces the colorful history—and geography—of this question. Timely and engaging, Pure Adulteration shows that industrialization changed not just where food comes from but also where and to whom we look for reasons to trust it."
Helen Zoe Veit, Michigan State University
"Cohen’s important book corrects standard narratives of adulteration and regulation, which tend to give outsized credit to Harvey Wiley and The Jungle. He demonstrates persuasively that American ideas about ‘purity’ changed enormously over the time period he considers, moving from an experiential and primarily agricultural concept to a consumer-oriented standard whose ultimate arbiter was laboratory analysis."
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