Issues of food safety have been making headlines in the past few years. From peanut butter to spinach, eggs to sprouts, it seems that even the most mundane and highly-processed foods can lead to widespread sickness due to food-borne bacteria. In such an atmosphere, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and uninformed about where our food comes from. Writer Ben Hewitt seeks to demystify how exactly food can make us sick, and the ways we can address this problem, in his new book Making Supper Safe: One Man's Quest to Learn the Truth About Food Safety.
This book is highly compelling from the first chapter, when Hewitt recounts his experience dumpster-diving with a friend who has fed himself from discarded food for over a decade. Hewitt highlights the "freegan" lifestyle as a segue to discussing our society's relationship with germs—mainly, that we try to cleanse ourselves of them entirely. Though some may be repulsed at an image of Hewitt snacking on runny cheese or Oreos from the garbage, Hewitt makes the point that his friend has not once been sickened from discarded food, and yet our food production system sickens millions each year.
Hewitt moves on to talk about the reasons why we are facing more dangerous and numerous food-borne bacteria in our daily lives. Among the most-cited explanations are oversight in our federal food regulatory system, incorrect usage of antibiotics, rising use of antibiotics in livestock production, and unsanitary and dangerous conditions on farms. His writing is science-based but very accessible; he backs up his claims with plenty of hard facts, but doesn't overwhelm with too many footnotes.
He also touches on issues of seed patenting and monocultures, and highlights some individuals who run seed companies and farms that diversify the variety of products available to consumers and those looking to plant their own gardens. He encourages readers not only to grow their food, but also to join local food cooperatives instead of shopping at the local supermarket. Co-ops are more likely to buy local, unpasteurized, unprocessed foods, and Hewitt speaks highly of his own experience with such a market in Vermont.
A large section of the book is dedicated to profiling food-borne illness lawyer William Marler, of the Seattle-based firm Marler Clark. A fascinating character, Marler has worked in this niche area of law for many years. He has strong opinions about the flaws in our food production methods that lead to sickening of the general public. He hopes his efforts representing affected individuals will have an impact on how seriously corporations and the federal government take food safety.
Hewitt's tone is determined; my guess is that if he had his way, readers would put his book down and immediately seek out their local food co-op and plant a bed of vegetables behind the house. But he is not simply preaching that we abandon our current food system and government infrastructure. He fixates on the idea of individual rights—that we have a right, as members of a democratic nation, to food that will not make us ill. On this principle, he calls for more dramatic government action preventing outbreaks, and more accurate reporting of outbreaks to the Center for Disease Control. I found his book to be highly insightful, readable, and informative. Though it can be frightening to think about our own pantries making us deathly ill, it is also important to face the facts that Hewitt presents in order to become educated consumers.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.