There's something just so universally unsettling about having eaten bad food. Food that's not what its label says. Food that's gone bad, but is disguised to look good. Food that has additives and fillers that may or may not kill you.
Swindled begins in 1820s London, where chemist Frederick Accum blew off the cover on food adulteration, alerting all who had eaten pickles made green by copper, vinegar made sharp by sulphuric acid, or sweets dyed red with lead.
Author Bee Wilson takes us on a fascinating, horrifying and lovingly researched journey of the history of what swindlers have foisted on an unsuspecting public over the years, falsifying and even poisoning our daily bread.
The book explores how government has worked to keep food pure and — paradoxically — made it easier for food producers to deceive the public.
Inequality of the classes has also played a role. In 19th century England, the “property-holding class” got the first choice of the best food at the market, but by the time the workers reached it, they found “the cheese old and of poor quality…the meat tough, taken from old, often diseased cattle…”
There are ads and cartoons from old times in the book. Check out the 1928 ad for Campbell's finest Mock Turtle Soup, the most famous of all mock foods, and the strange 1970s ad for “pearnanas.” Swindled is unsettling with a good sense of humor.