Off the Shelf: The Poison Squad

Yes, things have been crazy lately.

I have been calming myself recently by reading The Poison Squad, which is the story of the origin of the FDA (at least I think that’s where it’s going). Why, you may ask yourself, would this topic calm me?

Set in the 1800’s, it starts with a scientist who is brought into what I think is the Bureau of Agriculture to help farmers become more productive. But, as this guy gets into his job, he becomes very involved in early food purity testing. He discovers not only that flour, for example, uses chalk as an extender. Or that formaldehyde is used to cover up bad milk (this is discovered when babies in orphanages start dying in droves). And not only that farmers are doing these things, but that these things are being produced and marketed to the farmers – it’s not accidental; it’s deliberate. He then creates a whole bureau whose job it is to look into these things and report to Congress on them.

Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t want to act. So the guy hires a staff writer whose job it is to publish the results of the reports in pamphlets and articles for the general public. A move which is quashed when the next president is elected and the administration changes. The new Agricultural Secretary cuts funding for the researchers and tells our hero to stop “hurting business” and focus on helping farmers make more money. Just as things get really bad, another election occurs and a new administration takes over. Funding is restored.

There’s a lot more to it than that – I’m only half way through and can only read a little at a time, owing to the gross descriptions of the food impurities, which is enough to turn you off packaged food completely.

So why does this make me feel better?

Because things have been really bad before, so bad it’s almost unbelievable, and they’ve gotten better. For crying out loud, we had a civil war, we’ve lived through cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, swine flu, huge floods that swept away much of the Midwest, hurricanes that drowned huge numbers of people. We survived the Great Depression. We’ve survived the atomic-happy age just after WWII. We’ve survived plagues of locusts.

Now is bad. Yes. Now is really bad.

We are all really worried, one way or the other.

But we can survive this.

We need to stay calm, stay steady, stop losing our shit with each other. Quit watching the cable news channels (yes, yours as well as the other one – all of them, stop watching all of them).

If you feel the need to act, don’t make plans to move to Canada (they don’t want us anyway) – volunteer to get out the vote.

We will survive.

In the words of that immortal guide to the galaxy: Don’t panic.

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