Horse meat in our burgers, melamine in our infant formula, artificial colors in our fish and fruit–as our urban lifestyle takes us farther away from our food sources, there are increasing opportunities for dishonesty, duplicity, and profit-making shortcuts. Food adulteration, motivated by money, is an issue that has spanned the globe throughout human history. Whether it’s a matter of making a good quality oil stretch a bit further by adding a little extra “something” or labeling a food falsely to appeal to current consumer trends–it’s all food fraud. Consumers may pay the ultimate costs for these crimes, with their health and, in some cases, their lives. So how do we sort the beef from the bull (or horse, as the case may be)?
Illustrious analytical chemist Richard Evershed and science writer Nicola Temple explain the scientific tools and techniques that have revealed the century’s biggest food fraud scams. They explore the arms race between scientists and adulterators as better techniques for detection spur more creative and sophisticated means of adulteration, and review the up-and-coming techniques and devices that will help the industry and consumers fight food fraud in the future. Engagingly written, SORTING THE BEEF FROM THE BULL lifts the lid on the forensics involved, and brings to light the full story of a fascinating and underreported world of applied science.
I resolved to read more non-fiction this year, and Sorting the Beef from the Bull was a fascinating addition to my shelf. It does get a bit science-heavy at times, but it’s incredibly interesting to read about the various food fraud scams that take place, and how analysts try to figure out what’s going on – think CSI of the culinary world.
From substituting meat species, to adding extra water or other dodgy substitutes to bulk up the contents, mislabelling different types of fish/meat/veg to fetch a higher price or get around endangered species lists, and creating fake milk, eggs, and vintage wines, it’s astonishing just how much room there is for manipulating the food that we eat. And it makes sense, when you think about it – we are so far removed from the days of growing our own veg in the garden and bartering with the neighbour for some eggs, and there is now a massive distance between the consumer and producer, with many chain links in between, all with the potential to interfere with the quality or quantity of the stuff we put in our mouths.
Furthermore, while some of the scams mentioned in the book result in nothing more than ripping off the customer or reducing the quality of the product, others have resulted in fatal consequences. The book goes chapter by chapter through the different food groups – meat, fish, vegetables, etc, and details the way that fraud can take place, and how food scientists and other watchdogs try to combat this. It’s particularly difficult for the scientists, because they can only test for the chemicals/substances that they know to look for – if they’re not looking for X ingredient in the product, they won’t pick it up.
Overall, an relevant, fairly easy to read book packed with fascinating facts that may have you looking twice at the contents of your dinner plate.
Free copy received from Jonathan Ball publishers in exchange for an honest review.