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The Poison Eaters

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  213 ratings  ·  72 reviews

★ "Revolting and riveting in turns, Jarrow's masterfully crafted narrative will fundamentally alter how readers view their food.Though laced with toxins, this is anything but toxic." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Here is the fascinating true story of how food was made safer to eat thanks to the stubborn dedication of government chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, whose

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Boyds Mills; Calkins Creek
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Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've been an avid fan of Jarrow since I returned to teaching and discovered Red Madness. She is a master of her craft and writes nonfiction with a distinguished style. When students hit 6th grade after being tortured by leveled elementary reading groups using dry nonfiction- it is difficult to persuade students to pick up an authentic nonfiction book. I'm very thankful that Jarrow has written this page-turning series of nonfiction books. After a book talk, students are clamoring to get their han ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read this book while trying to alternate fiction and nonfiction books. This book is a crazy, horrific tale of what manufacturing and food services was in the 1880s through the mid-1900s. Basically, people grew their own food or traded or bought food in their village. THEN, food started to be canned and sold greater distances to cities. Your sausage was now filled with rat feces from the floor and Borax to keep it from rotting. The milk was watered down with a dash of formaldehyde to keep it fres ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is sold as a book for middle grades, but is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in the beginning of the FDA and all of the legal squabbles - thanks to Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, other scientists, and women, mostly mothers, and Sinclair Lewis - who fought Presidents, Congress, manufacturers, and con artists. Formaldehyde, borax, salicylic acid, animal parts, bricks, rocks, cocaine, morphine, radium, charcoal, coal tar, and belladonna!!! in our food, patent medicines, and milk! Well rese ...more
Josephine Sorrell
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery-2020
Here is the fascinating true story of how food was made safer to eat thanks to the stubborn dedication of government chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, whose hard work and determination led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Formaldehyde, borax, salicylic acid. Today, these chemicals are used in embalming fluids, cleaning supplies, and acne medications. But in 1900, they were routinely added to food that Americans ate from cans and jars. Often products weren't safe beca ...more
Sarai Davila
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recently I'd read a book about our journey through food history, and how we used to know every little detail about our food, and what we were putting in our bodies. And then, we started making processed food, and everything changed wildly. This book felt like a great additional read to that one, since it dealt with some of what they were talking about in the other book. In short, the forming of the FDA, and how it all came together.

Jarrow's book is well-researched, and is an excellent piece on
Apr 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: kids
Another poorly-timed read for me. It was frustrating to read about how the government stymied years and years of effort to implement logical food and drug protections, which loosely correlates to what's happening now with resources to combat COVID-19. I felt depressed, like things will always just be this way, with our decision-makers influenced more by the economy and personal gain than the good of the population.

Otherwise, this was interesting and I learned a lot. The title of "Poison Eaters"
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
(Because Bink gave it 5 stars)
Fascinating history following the relentless work of US government chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley.
In 1874 he was offered a position of professor of chemistry at Purdue University. After 4 years, he studied in Europe visiting hospitals, and attending lectures in chemistry, physics, and pathology. His experience with equipment that analyzed the chemical composition of food greatly interested him and found a need to apply that knowledge back home.
Chemicals were be
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
An informative Jarrow nonfiction that tells the tale of the crappy companies that wanted to cut corners and put non-food items, coloring, dyes, and liquids into food to prolong them, cover up the smell of already rotting-food, or save on food products used by substituting other things (sawdust for flour in breads) that was not only affecting people’s health but fleecing farmers.

It’s not as “riveting” as some of her others but still important and worth a read where it comes to the creation of th
Trisha Parsons
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by modern-day snake oil salesman, and this book showed me that hocking quackery and misleading products is nothing new. It also showed me how grateful I am for the people who fought for regulated food safety for over two decades so that I am able to go to the grocery store and have very few doubts that what I'm purchasing is safe to consume. ...more
Feb 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting history of the FDA and food safety laws. Let’s hope those laws continue to evolve as humans are still eating all kinds of harmful things.
Jan 11, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 - Easily digestible and fascinating information on the history of the FDA.
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
The history of the FDA, (America's Food & Drug Administration) mostly told as a biography of Harvey Wiley who spent the early 1900s championing for federal involvement in adulterated food and its safety. Told in Jarrow's skillful way, so there's suspense and interest and great illustrations. It continues for a few chapters after Wiley retires (both from the FDA and then from life) to trace strengthening of the law.

I missed any look at the idea that gov't regulation can go too far -- Jarrow seems
Definitely a fifth/middle school book rather than a teen audience. Anything is horrifying to read when it contains stories about thalidomide, radium additives, morphine laced cough syrup, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Inevitably, one will finish the book distrustful of the safety of capitalism (as one should). But there was something missing. I know, it's an introductory book meant for younger readers rather than a Radiolab spinoff series, but the balance feels off. It draws its attention-gra ...more
Kenzie Lewis
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Today most people know what goes into the food they eat, and the medicine they take. And you can always look on the label at the list of ingredients. This hasn’t always been the case. Before food and drug regulations were put into place there was no way of knowing if what you were eating from those cans and boxes was really actually what it claimed to be. Foods marketed as “pure” and “natural” could have harmful chemicals, dyes, and even human and animal waste because the factories they were mad ...more
Ms. Patterson
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's wild that I pulled this book to read one day after I watched an episode of Asian Boss that talked about counterfiet items in Malaysia. I didn't realize that counterfeit food and medicine (changing labels, etc.) was such a problem today, but apparently it is! I think most of us know about the use of cocaine or morphine in over the counter foods and medicines in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, but I'm surprised it's still such a huge problem in the world today. What this book doe ...more
VillaPark Public Library
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
At a time when sausage was made from meat scraps swept from the floor and mixed with borax to keep it from rotting, along came chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and his fight for safer food for consumers. Wiley studied chemistry and biology in college, taught chemistry at Purdue University, and eventually, in 1883, he ended up as Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Division of Chemistry. This is where he started his crusade for “pure food” legislation, which didn’t get enacted for ov ...more
Nov 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Gail Jarrow is right up there with Stuart J. Murphy, Russell Freedman, and David A. Adler. Her young adult history nonfiction books are incredibly readable, interesting, and they highlight important yet little-considered topics.
This book is about the creation of the Food & Drug Administration from its humble beginnings just over a century ago. The title is not just bait to interest readers--the original scientists actually hired healthy young men to deliberately eat suspected toxins with their f
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Keeping in mind it's a YA book, it's a very good introduction and overview of how food safety and food laws have come about in the United States. I do wish I'd read this before The Poison Squad as I was more aware of what information was left out (understandable, again, considering the goal of the book). My only criticism was how the book started, as it felt like it leaned towards all chemicals are bad, especially as they have multiple purposes, but it did later correct it to focusing more on am ...more
I had some familiarity with the story behind The Poison Eaters from an episode about Dr. Harvey Wiley's food additive study on Sawbones. I've long been interested in tales of patent medicines and other less than savory medical practices from the distant past, and had a passing familiarity with the "Poison Eaters" study, so when this book was suggested from the library's e-collection, I checked it out.

Gail Jarrow's writing is clear and engaging. Pretty early into the book, I realized that it was
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a really interesting account of the history of the protections we now have from unsafe and fraudulent food, drugs and cosmetics. The book is written very engagingly, and I love all the historical documents and images that illustrate the pages. I think I would recommend this book to almost anyone, because I think it is both interesting and important. The story itself is pretty amazing, the there are some heroes involved to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. It is also a really nice exam ...more
Cromaine Library
The Poison Eaters chronicles the rise of the FDA, looks at fraud in food and prescriptions, and examines where food safety stands today. This compelling introduction to food safety is perfect for upper elementary and middle school readers. While this book shows how far we have come with food safety and why it is so important that organizations like the FDA exist, it is also frightening to see how much work still needs to be done. There are great photographs throughout the text, along with a glos ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
With a bibliography and primary source list that puts some doctoral theses to shame, this middle-grades book has historical research bases covered. There are lots of photos of key players in the clean-food battle and some of the advertising shared will chill your bones!

Recommended for upper elementary through high school readers who want to know about how the FDA came to be. I'd have liked to have seen a more realistic portrayal of today's continued influence against the clean-food movement. Ja
Hope Decker
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Who knew there was such intrigue surrounding the formation of the FDA?! This book is a page turner, even for adults. Written in a easy to follow style with chapters and headings, and with period advertisements for “wonder drugs” this book is fun to read. I was shocked by some of the photos of people who were victims of these dangerous drugs, and young readers will be too. I recommend for middle grades (5-8) doing history or biology research, as well as adults of any age who want to read about fa ...more
Castle Spooktacular (Cassandra Woods)
An amazing retrospective on how corruption, lies, and money have been the driving force of consumerism and medical quackery in our country... Over 100 years later, and our government is still unable to effectively regulate food, drugs, cosmetics, and products. Especially now that a majority of things are outsourced to other countries to save money, we need to keep asking questions and be more aware of the harmful substances that are in our everyday food and products. An interesting and eye openi ...more
Annie Oosterwyk
This book strikes a perfect balance between carefully researched history, sensational stories of interest, and clearly presented information.
Follows the life of Harvey Wiley, the man who was the face of the pure-food movement, in his life as a farmer to chemist, to government official. His mission was to ensure that foods on the market were safe for consumption and did not misrepresent ingredients. He oversaw the creation of the FDA and dedicated his life to consumer safety.
A delicious exposé
Cindy Huskey
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Repulsive but compelling. The history of the USDA is a subject that I normally wouldn't voluntarily read about, but the author's narrative style is very engaging.

I knew a little about drinks and elixirs full of morphine, cocaine, and other amphetamines, but I didn't realize how many people died from these "cure-alls."


I thought the chemicals and garbage in today's food was bad - I had no idea what people actually eating through the mid-1900s (rat feces, insect parts, borax, formaldehyde, and o
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“At the dawn of the twentieth century, few people had a clue that they were regularly being ripped off, drugged, and poisoned.”

This is at the end of chapter one, a chapter full of facts about what people used to put in their bodies! Yikes!
Moving from farming and growing your own food to relying on business for food opened people up to the unscrupulous industry. Adulteration occurred, adding cheaper materials or disguised rotten ingredients to appear, and smell, fresh. Talc, paraffin, and ground
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars, 2022-beehive
The cover on this book isn't attractive to me and because of the cover I was in no hurry to read it.
However, the information was informative, scary, annoying, and makes me want to never eat can food again from a can!
I get mad when the FDA approves a drug like Xantac and then they back peddle and say "Oh Xantac is bad" But even with their difficult job I am glad they at least monitor instead of putting formaldehyde in my Diet Coke
Annalee Schnebele
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Engaging story about food purity and additives. Super relevant with the recent findings that sunscreen is actually kindof scary bad. Makes me angry that the government has pretty much always acted in the best interest of companies instead of the best interest of people.

Highly recommended for middle school libraries with a very nice tie in for 7th grade history.
Abby Johnson
Horrifying and engrossing! It is so gross what people used to be allowed to put into foods and medicines and it's outrageous how vigorous the fight had to be for government regulations to control it and make products safer for consumers. Hand to middle school and high school students interested in the history of medicine and food science. ...more
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Gail Jarrow is the award-winning author of nonfiction books and novels for readers 8-18.

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