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Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears

Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears

Hardback Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History

By (author) Madeleine Ferrieres, Translated by Jody Gladding

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  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Format: Hardback | 416 pages
  • Dimensions: 158mm x 236mm x 33mm | 680g
  • Publication date: 30 November 2005
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0231131925
  • ISBN 13: 9780231131926
  • Sales rank: 1,517,155

Product description

Contemporary concerns about food such as those stemming from mad cow disease, salmonella, and other potential food-related dangers are hardly new-humans have long been wary of what they eat. Beyond the fundamental fear of hunger, societies have sought to protect themselves from rotten, impure, or unhealthy food. From the markets of medieval Europe to the slaughterhouses of twentieth-century Chicago, Madeleine Ferrieres traces the origins of present-day behavior toward what we eat as she explores the panics, myths, and ever-shifting attitudes regarding food and its safety. She demonstrates that food fears have been inspired not only by safety concerns but also by cultural, political, and religious prejudices. Flour from human bones and pate from dead cats are just two of the more unappetizing recipes that have scared consumers away from certain foods. Ferrieres considers the roots of these and other rumors, illuminating how societies have assessed and attempted to regulate the risks of eating. She documents the bizarre and commonsensical attempts by European towns to ensure the quality of beef and pork, ranging from tighter controls on butchers to prohibiting Jews and menstruating women from handling meat. Examining the spread of Hungarian cattle disease, which ravaged the livestock of seventeenth-century Europe, Ferrieres recounts the development of safety methods that became the Western model for fighting animal diseases. Ferrieres discusses a wealth of crucial and curious food-related incidents, trends, and beliefs, including European explorers' shocked responses to the foodways of the New World; how some foods deemed unsafe for the rich were seen as perfectly suitable for the poor; the potato's negative reputation; the fierce legal battles between seventeenth-century French bread bakers and innkeepers; the role of the medical profession in food regulation; and how modern consumerism changed the way we eat. Drawing on history, folklore, agriculture, and anthropology, Ferrieres tells us how our decisions about what not to eat reflect who we are.

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Author information

Madeleine Ferrieres is professor of social history at the University of Avignon.Jody Gladding is a published poet and the translator of several works, including French Gastronomy: The History and Geography of a Passion.

Review quote

Ferrieres cuts across historiographic heritages with intelligence and uncommon pertinence. Le Monde Ferrieres' accomplishment provides a historical foundation for anyone interested in development of public policy regarding what we eat. Booklist 10/15/05 Its scholarly foundation is solid and extensive... She has read well and has chosen her texts... with care. -- Priscilla Ferguson Journal of Modern History 9/1/05 An impressively researched addition to the Arts and Traditions of the Table Series... Filled with choice nuggets of food lore. Kirkus 10/15/05 A study that has fascinating contemporary echoes... It is a dense but rewarding book. -- John Postgate Times Literary Supplement 10/28/05 Well composed and excellently translated... a delightful excursion... Recommended. Choice April 2006 Scholarly, densely written but fascinating. -- Ingebord Boyens Globe and Mail 2/18/2006 Sticks to a rich and well-exploited range of historical sources... Ferrieres argues convincingly. -- W. F. Bynum Nature 3/23/2006 An original and useful book. -- David F. Smith American Historical Review 12/1/2006 Truly groundbreaking. -- Richard Pillsbury The Historian Vol. 70, No. 3

Editorial reviews

An impressively researched addition to the Arts and Traditions of the Table series. French historian Ferrieres (Social History/Univ. of Avignon) has dug deep and wide in her exploration of anxieties about food: agricultural statistics, medical and veterinary journals, public health records, royal decrees, city and town ordinances and cookery manuals. Human fears about food, she notes, fall into two categories: concern about quantity and worry over quality. Her focus here is on the latter. Although she discusses Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, she gives the United States relatively short shrift, for Ferrieres's emphasis is on European, especially French, history. Her research turns up some fascinating facts, such as that in 14th-century Europe, horror of leprosy led to the erroneous belief that one could get it by consuming "leprous pork"; later, cabbage, cheese, beer and gamay grapes were also suspect. One bizarre tale involves a lawsuit in 1668 between Paris bakers and innkeepers in which bakery bread was alleged to be unhealthy because it was made with yeast; to settle the question, doctors weighed in, as did public prosecutors, judges, police and even parliament. European reactions-suspicion, aversion, phobia-of unfamiliar foods encountered in the New World are explored, as are some wild food rumors; e.g., English porter is made stronger than European beers by the addition of a skinned dog to the vat. She shows how food fears changed as industrialization distanced the consumer from the producer, examines the gap between scientific knowledge and political power in response to food risks and looks at the role of individual responsibility for food safety. A densely written, scholarly work, not especially accessible but filled with choice nuggets of food lore, culinary information and social history. (Kirkus Reviews)

Table of contents

Series Editor's PrefacePreface to the American EditionIntroduction1. Forbidden Meats2. Political Meat3. The Birth of the Consumer4. The Vigilant Consumer5. The Phobia of New Plants6. Bread on Trial7. Silent Fears8. The Pate and the Garden9. Hungarian Cattle Disease10. From the Epizootic to the Epidemic11. The Politics of Precaution12. The Dangers of Imperfect Metals12. Health Conflicts14. Bourgeois Serenity15. English Cattle Disease16. The Poisoners of ChicagoConclusionNotesBibliographyIndex