We’ve all experienced that slightly stomach-churning occurrence of spotting a foreign body in food that was about to make its way into your mouth, but spare a thought for those poor souls in less enlightened times who, as Bill Bryson tells in his fascinating recent compendium At Home, faced a constant barrage of non-food additives festering in their fodder.
Baked goods and mustard glowed with the help of lead chromate, red lead lent its colour to Gloucester cheese, and sawdust and powdered sheep poo were unwittingly imbibed by tea drinkers. Bread, it seems, was especially vulnerable to “the devious wiles of food adulterers”, commonly being peppered with ground up bones, chalk, white lead and “slaked lime” (which alone sounds pure evil).
Troubled though we may be by pesticides and genetic engineering, perhaps we should consider ourselves, in some way, lucky.
* As read in Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Black Swan, 2011.