Benjamin Cohen, Associate Professor of Engineering Studies and Environmental Studies at Lafayette College (USA), discussed his book Pure Adulteration: Cheating on Nature in the Age of Manufactured Food (University of Chicago Press, 2019) in the Greenhouse environmental humanities book series on Monday, 22 February 2021, 16:00 Central European time.
In Pure Adulteration, 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.