My final project is complete!
Below is the breakdown of the location of the assignment components.
- Two or more interactive maps showing substantive geographical data or other geospatial elements related to your topic. (Lifestyle Page)
- Two or more graphs, charts, or other visualizations that tell a story with data about your topic. (Events Page)
- Two or more analyses of texts related to your topic using text mining tools.(Awareness Page)
- A synthetic, cohesive presentation of the first three elements of the assignments using presentation software.(3 PowerPoint slides on the Presentation Page)
- The equivalent of 3 double-spaced pages of text. This text should consist of a historical argument (Presentation Page) supported by or commenting on your digital materials and putting them into historical context (Sources Page), as well as a plan for the security and preservation of your project over time (This Blog Post). At least this written portion of the project must be posted on your blog.
SECURITY AND PRESERVATION
I put a lot of time and effort into the website that I built, but since it is an electronic source of information, it has many weaknesses. It has little security, making it vulnerable to hackers. I use the same username and password for my host site account that I do for most of my other electronic accounts. The site is free, so if the host, Wix, wanted to charge me for it I would either have to pay money or I would lose the site forever. I don’t have the html for the webpages I built, so if Wix ever went out of business, the whole site would be lost. The same can be said for the imbedded applications I used.
Fortunately I do have most of the information stored as notes on my computer. I also have a copy of the bibliography. I could take screen shots of the website and print out the information that I feel is important. Also, since my Wix account is free, I don’t have to worry about the account expiring due to a missed payment. Many of the charts and graphs are saved as images on my computer. Since I used outside applications, if Wix shut down I would still have my timeline and other charts.
(also visible on the website)
The history of the use of poisons in American food dates back further than the existence of the United States itself, but public awareness and concern over resultant health implications has only been a predominant concern since the start of the 21st Century. Today in America it is commonplace for food producers to add trace amounts of poison to food before selling it to the consumer. These chemicals are often added to kill microorganisms, but they are harmful to people too. Some of the more well known poisons commonly found in food today are formaldehyde and sodium cyanide (which are combined to make the ingredient EDTA in Mountain Dew), petroleum (used to make Red 40), and arsenic (commonly added to rice and rice products). But food hasn’t always been this way. For most of human history food was just made out of, well, food, without dangerous chemicals. This website explores when poison became such a common ingredient in food, and why.
The perceived need for modern chemical preservatives arose with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which reached the Americas around the year 1750. As more and more people left their farms in the countryside to work instead in large factories, cities became more and more crowded. These new city dwellers had neither the land nor the time to grow their own food. All of a sudden there was a large demand for food that could be sent to and sold in the cities, and stay “fresh” longer so it wouldn’t rot before the consumer got the chance to eat it. A hundred years later, the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution answered everyone’s prayers. New chemical pesticides allowed for higher crop yields in the countryside, which meant farmers were able to meet higher demands for food. These pesticides and preservatives also prevented the food from rotting during the long journey from the farm to the truck to the city to the market to the consumer’s kitchen to the consumer’s dinner plate. At first these poisons seemed like a miracle.
Unfortunately, the use of chemicals in food was largely unregulated. It was common for people to die from eating crops that contained too much pesticide. In 1903 a group of young men formed the Poison Squad. These volunteers ate foods treated with different kinds of chemical preservatives and then recorded which ones made them ill and which ones didn’t. It was around this time that the Food and Drug Administration as we know it really began to take action to protect consumers. In the following decades the FDA struggled to keep consumers safe without strangling the growth of the agricultural industry. It began to require chemical companies to prove that their products were safe for human consumption and that their usage be reported on food labels. The FDA was largely successful in making food safer, but it still had some failings. In 1925, a family in London was badly poisoned by American apples that had been treated with arsenic. For a time the British government considered banning American fruit.
For much of the twentieth century the FDA seemed to be doing its best to protect the American people. In 1958, for example, the Delaney Amendment banned all additives that were found to cause cancer in animals or humans. But as time went on the loyalties and effectiveness of the FDA became increasingly questionable. Despite the Delaney Amendment, many food additives linked to cancer were approved for use. The FDA and the United States Supreme Court found themselves staffed by former lawyers, chemical engineers, and other employees of major agricultural chemical companies.
These biases resulted in doubious court rulings and suspected bribery. In 1993 the FDA approved Monsanto’s recumbent bovine growth hormone (rBGH) for use. FDA official Dr. Margaret Miller participated in the approval process of the drug, despite having previously worked for Monsanto as a chemical engineer. FDA official Dr. Suzanne Sechen also participated in its approval, despite having previously conducted studies funded by Monsanto and studying under one of Monsanto’s university consultants. To prove that rBGH was safe, Monsanto conducted an unpublished study on 30 rats for 90 days. While this laughable study was sufficient for FDA approval, it was not sufficient for Health Canada’s (the Canadian FDA) approval in 1998. Fearing rejection of their product, Monsanto offered Health Canada a $2 million bribe, which they rejected along with the dangerous artificial hormone.
Such incidents went largely unnoticed by the general public until the very late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. The Organic Food Movement gained a significant amount of momentum in 1990 with the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act, which laid the framework for organic food as we know it today—food that is most often free of poison. Since then the organic food industry has been on the rise. Organic food and FDA decisions became more popular topics for conversation in the 2000 decade than ever before. As more consumers make informed decisions about what they eat, more and more farmers and companies are responding with healthy products that don’t contain toxic chemicals. The history of poison in American food is still being written, by us, one day at a time, every time we eat.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF MATERIALS
(also visible on the website)
Below are lists of sources I used in each part of the website. Despite my best efforts to supply valid and accurate information, I encourage you to challenge everything you read both on this site and on others. Do your own research. Validate the information you find. Never settle for taking somebody’s word for it. Everybody has a reason to present information to you with their own particular slant, even if it’s not apparent.
Most of my sources fall into one of three categories: Time Magazine Articles, Government Articles, and Progressive Articles. Each one presents information from its own perspective. Here I have shed some light into the present historical context of each group of articles:
TIME Magazine Articles—
The TIME Magazine Articles used in this website were used for the purposes of creating the graphs of public awareness of topics relating to the integrity of American food. I used a corpus of TIME articles which included all articles published in print since TIME’s beginning in 1923.
For much of the century, the American public saw TIME Magazine as a critical source of information. Reporting relevant information has been crucial to the success of its sales, which is why I chose to use it to represent hot topics in the previous century.
With the rise in popularity of instantaneous electronic news, many news agencies have sacrificed fact-checking in return for faster headlines and lower costs for on-staff personnel. Fortunately, for most of TIME Magazine’s existence, print and television broadcast media were the dominant news formats, which allowed for more reliable information than is common today.
My government sources were all take from electronic articles on the internet. Since concern for the integrity of fresh food has only seemed to gain mainstream popularity in recent decades, most of my articles were written were within the last decade or so. Also, most of the articles were written specifically for the web, also indicating that they were written relatively recently.
At this point in time, the public expects transparency from their government. In this democratic nation, scandals can deadly to the careers of government officials. The growth of the Organic Movement over the last 20+ years has placed extra pressure on the government to be honest about its controversial practices. In a day and age where information is constantly being sent to millions of people instantaneously, criticism of the government can be easily distributed to the masses.
This also creates incentive for the government to respond to inquiries about their more controversial decisions. If the government doesn’t make a case supporting their own actions, then most of the information consumers find will be information that attacks those actions. It is therefore in the government’s best interest to be honest about the actions it has taken, but to portray those actions in such a way that they appear reasonable.
The progressive articles I read were written in the last 20 years, usually in the last 10, and were written for the internet. Most of them were published on privately owned websites, which means that there is no guarantee of accuracy or peer review. The websites openly support causes related to the Organic Movement, which creates a potential for biased information.
To their credit, most of these websites do not contain ads, meaning that they are less likely to have direct financial incentive to only portray issues in a particular light. They often cited their sources, and when I did my own research to weigh their claims against the information on opposing government websites, their information was consistent with the governments’, only it presented the same facts from a different viewpoint.