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 Will Publish December 2019
E-book $35.00 ISBN: 9780226667096 Will Publish 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. Purity became a scientific rather than environmental concept—one based on analyzing the product instead of the process.
In the end, there is (and was) no natural, pre-human distinction between pure and adulterated to simply 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
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