I got this book from our local library because food safety is an issue that interests me. Coming from a farm family I have a natural interest in issues revolving around agriculture and food. At different points along the way I’ve even thought about being a food and ag scientist. Certainly some of the people I most admire fit that bill (Norman Borlaug and Kevin Folta.)
Sorting the Beef from the Bull is about a part of food science that I hadn’t really thought much about- food fraud. It takes on the tricks that fraudsters use to adulterate, fake or mislabel foods and the science used to sort the real thing from the fake. It also delves into the history of food fraud and the societal settings that allow fraud to happen.
You can take this book one of two ways. First you can get really grossed out, worried and paranoid about your food. After all this book covers a multitude of scams that have caused people to get sick because of the adulteration’s. Plus you’ll find out about things like plastic in rice and rodent hairs in spices and rotten meat being disguised and sold. It is disgusting, and I do not recommend reading this right before a meal.
You COULD read this book and decide that you have to move to some sort of commune and grow/raise all your own food.
However, that is certainly not what the authors are going for. Which brings me to the second way you can take all of the info in the book, you can embrace the science AND be a more educated consumer. My two biggest take-aways were that science is getting better all the time at being able to detect problems with our food and that you get what you pay for.
Most of the food fraud is driven by greed, often preying on those looking for a deal. Over and over again the scams were a deal that was “too good to be true.” Olive oil being sold door-to-door in Spain was a really good deal until it sent thousands to the hospital. Baby formula in China was half the price of the normal brands, it turned out to have melamine in it. There are lots of examples like this in the book. But more so, there is in-depth descriptions of the science behind keeping our food safe and detecting frauds.
They do use lots of big science-y words in the book, which could cause some readers to gloss over the good news (science is catching the bad guys) and just focus on the bad. I hope you won’t do that.
Science is awesome! This book proves that. From DNA databases, to electronic noses and tongues, to tools to flag items that may become vulnerable to fraud this book is filled with exciting advances. Behind the headlines of the food scandals are scientists and others hard at work to keep our food safe.
I really enjoyed this book. You’ll enjoy it too if the science doesn’t bog you down and you don’t focus too much on the gross-out factor.