Review: Eating Dangerously by Michael Booth & Jennifer Brown

Eating Dangerously

This book makes me paranoid about what I eat. Eating Dangerously is a detailed collection of food safety cases in the United States showcasing how foodborne illnesses are spread and how to prevent them. I like the consumer food safety tips that are provided, but the book does get a bit dry at times in terms of content and language. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worthy of at least a skim for those interested in learning about the food we eat.

Introduction

Michael Booth, former journalist for The Denver Post, and Jennifer Brown, current journalist for the same paper, team up to address the issue of food safety in the U.S. Booth and Brown interview numerous experts in the field to show the severity of the problem at hand; the two follow numerous foodborne illness outbreaks – such as the 2011 listeria outbreak that was traced back to cantaloupe farms – and show the modern farm-to-table paradigm, while revealing how budget cuts are preventing the proper food safety inspections from taking place. They also describe the difference between eating healthy and eating safe, share some surprising facts about the cleanliness of genetically modified foods and organic foods, and provide kitchen and shopping tips that will lead to safer eating habits.

Discussion

Eating Dangerously scared me for a good 70% of the book. It’s full of detailed examples of food poisoning cases, and really just made me paranoid about eating spinach and cantaloupe and even using spices on my food! I’m already kind of hypochondriacal, but after reading this, I keep wondering if a stomachache after a meal is the precursor to food poisoning or kidney failure or something WORSE. So in terms of relaying the importance of food safety, Booth and Brown did an excellent job. This pithy statement, in particular, hit me straight in my stomach heart:

It was peanut butter that killed her.

By providing an inside look at the food production process, the authors highlight the many places where food can be infected or “dirtied”. They also show that sometimes a lack of responsibility on the manufacturers’ part is not simply accidental, but on purpose. I felt a very accusatory tone from the text, mostly at the government and the food producers and manufacturers; the somewhat biased writing (most likely intended to make readers angry at the big guys) put me off a little, but I think that’s just personal taste. I also grew less sympathetic as I kept reading because there were just so many disastrous cases that lead to severe illness or death.

The parts I enjoyed most about the book are the appendices, which provide lots of food safety resources including links to relevant websites and quick kitchen and shopping tips. Some tips that I’ll definitely keep in mind the next time I go shopping are to shop for cold items last and to wash reusable shopping bags occasionally, which are very self-explanatory… but which I’ve never done or paid attention to!

Conclusion

I liked Eating Dangerous for its content, but did not enjoy the writing style as much. It felt quite dry to me, but the numerous examples and evidence supporting the authors’ arguments make this a worthwhile book to skim through, if not to peruse through. As a grad student in public health, I also appreciated the detail that was put into showing how the farm-to-table paradigm has changed, and if the goal of this book is to induce outrage at the government and at food producers, the authors have succeeded. For those who want an abridged version of the book, Booth and Brown’s 2011 article is a great place to start since it emphasizes the problem with our food safety system and provides the consumer food safety tips that are also included in the book.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Eating Dangerously by Michael Booth & Jennifer Brown

  1. I’m sorry, but I literally laughed out LOUD when I read the sentence “It was peanut butter that killed her.” OH MY GOSH. I can see why that struck a chord!

    Food safety is an intriguing topic. I’ve enjoyed the recent trend towards farmers’ markets and the like – I think that a lot of the reason that our food isn’t as safe/clean/healthy is because of ALL THE PEOPLE between the growers and the consumers. You used to either raise your own stuff, or buy it almost directly from the person who did, and that system lends itself to accountability. Nowadays, so many people are involved that it’s hard to know where to pin the blame, and even when it’s pinned, it doesn’t usually impact someone’s bottom line in the long-term. (I have no idea who has had spinach outbreaks, or how to avoid those growers now – do you??) Sounds like an interesting read.

    • LOL, I’m glad you understand, Sarah! 😛 I agree – there are so many steps to food production now that allow for so much more things to go haywire. I don’t recall off the top of my head who had the spinach outbreaks, but I occasionally check the government’s food safety website (http://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/recent), so that might be a good place to start?

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