Category: Food and Drink

The Deadly Dinner Party: Real-Life Medical Detective Mysteries

We can’t get enough of detective mysteries. On television, police or medical procedurals and dramas such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, House M.D., Sherlock, and Elementary, draw us from the comfort and safety of our homes into high-stakes worlds of danger, intrigue, and death. Our continued fascination with “whodunit” manifests itself on the bookshelf as well – even J.K. Rowling published the crime fiction novel The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith in 2013. Since its publication in 1939, Agatha Christie’s mystery novel And Then There Were None remains one of the bestselling novels of all time.

In The Deadly Dinner Party, a collection of real-life medical detective mysteries, Jonathan A. Edlow contributes to the tradition of the detective mystery while carving out new space for himself. Just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the beloved detective Sherlock Holmes, was a physician, Edlow is a practicing physician and Harvard professor. In an exemplification of the close relationship between medical investigation and stories of crime detection, Doyle’s teacher, the surgeon Joseph Bell, served as inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, and Bell’s sensitivity to detail and use of deduction, inference, and observation as a doctor became the basis for Holmes’s deduction techniques as a detective. Edlow’s stories are amalgamations of medical investigations and detective stories. At first, the doctors and epidemiologists of The Deadly Dinner Party appear to be sleuths, or protagonists, while pathogens are easily cast as villains. However, the stories actually blur the distinctions between the role played by humans and the role played by pathogen.

0305dinnerplate_smFor instance, in the titular story, “The Deadly Dinner Party,” after attending a casual get-together of friends, the main characters fall ill and develop symptoms such as slurred speech and muscle weakness over the course of the next days. While the story depicts the process of diagnosing the dinner guests with botulism, the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, the toxin that causes botulism, is as central a character as any of the human ones. “The Deadly Dinner Party” interweaves an extensive history of the bacterium’s development with the plight of the dinner party guests and doctors. And unlike any of the other characters of the story, Clostridium botulinum gets its own origin story:

Finding the organism that was actually causing botulism is a story in itself. It starts in the tiny village of Ellezells, Belgium. Thirty-four individuals attended a funeral on a cold day in December 1895. The food served for the occasion included both smoked and pickled ham. The latter had been pickled within twenty-four hours of slaughter and kept in brine for eleven days before it was consumed. It didn’t look right and it didn’t smell right, but that did not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm with which it was eaten by the guests and members of the village band, who apparently were playing both for the funeral as well as a local festival. The first victims fell ill in less than twenty-four hours, and in all, twenty-three people became sick. Three died, and ten nearly died. Some who had eaten smaller amounts had a mild illness, and a few, who had eaten only fat or very small pieces of the meat, had no symptoms at all.

Back in the case of the deadly dinner party, after singling out the garlic bread and the cheese ball served that night as likely culprits, the health inspectors turned to history to solve the mystery:

The CDC had already notified Pickard that a garlic-in-oil preparation had been responsible for a 1985 outbreak in Vancouver, Canada. The incident came to light when two teenage sisters and their mother, who had traveled from Vancouver to Montreal, developed visual problems, difficulty swallowing, and weakness. Botulism was diagnosed… the source turned out to be garlic packed in oil, which was supposed to be kept refrigerated but had not been.

Yes, the doctors and health inspectors were the ones who figured out the causes behind this incidence of botulism at the end of the story. But unlike Sherlock Holmes, who solved his mysteries by predicting human behavior, the health inspectors accomplished this by also delving into the relationship between humans and Clostridium botulinum. In the preface, Edlow writes, “People necessarily have an anthropocentric view of the world, but even though we may be at the top of the food chain, that doesn’t mean we have dominion over the world or our environment.” Perhaps the key mystery this collection attempts to solve is the relationship between humans and microorganisms.

What’s in Your Orange Juice?

Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice: Alissa HamiltonAlissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know about Orange Juice was featured in a recent article from Men’s Health magazine titled “The Worst Chemicals in Your Food.”

While many orange juice brands tout their products as “all natural” and “freshly squeezed” the fruit beverage’s delicious flavor does not come wholly from freshly squeezed oranges from the grove. More often than not, commercial orange juice contains “flavor packs,” which are essences and oils that recreate the taste of freshly squeezed oranges. According to Hamilton, the secret to attaining that fresh orange flavor is as mysterious as the secret formula to make Coca Cola! But one ingredient is known to be present in these flavor packs: ethyl butyrate. Though it remains an FDA-approved food additive, many juice brands are fighting pending class-action lawsuits against them for having allegedly misled their customers.

Squeezed explores the obscure history of orange juice and how it became a staple item in refrigerators across the U.S. What’s more, she sheds light on how much of the orange juice-production process is remains largely unknown to consumers. This illuminating book’s case study of the orange juice industry leads one to ponder the book’s prevailing question: “Why we don’t know how our food ends up our supermarket shelf?”

To learn more about Alissa Hamilton and her book, check out the Squeezed blog.

The Thomas Jefferson “A Rich Spot of Earth” Quiz

A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello

“If heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market…” – Thomas Jefferson, 1811

Thomas Jefferson was passionate about horticulture and his gardens at his home in Monticello. Peter J. Hatch—former Director of Gardens and Grounds for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation—celebrates Jefferson’s green thumb in his book “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello. Learn more about the history of Jefferson’s Monticello gardens and the types of crops that were cultivated there, all while enjoying the nearly 200 full-color illustrations that accompany Hatch’s lively narrative.

Take the quiz below and send us your responses by December 20, 2012 for your chance to win a copy of this visually stunning book. And be sure to check out our longer post about “A Rich Spot of Earth”, from which you might find a clue to some of these answers!

  1. How many languages did Thomas Jefferson speak? Which were they?
  2. Fill in the Blank: Thomas Jefferson served as Minister to                 between the years ___ and ____.
  3. True or False? The Jefferson family produced wine and brewed beer in Monticello.
  4. What was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable?
  5. True or False? Thomas Jefferson was a vegetarian.

Jefferson: America’s Epicurean President

A Rich Spot of EarthYou may know Thomas Jefferson as the third U.S. President but ever consider that he has, thus far, been our nation’s only epicurean president? In his book A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, Peter J. Hatch introduces yet another of Jefferson’s many extra-political interests that shaped his eclectic life: food and gardening.

An influential writer, diplomat, and president, Thomas Jefferson had a sizable public relations presence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Thus, whatever he said or did likely carried greater significance in the context of the nation he represented both here and abroad. His gardening hobby served a greater purpose than satisfy his his vegetable cravings; it also functioned as a timely metaphor for American diversity, independence, and innovation.

Jefferson’s garden in Monticello presented “a roster of rare, unusual, and pioneering species,” according to Hatch. At the time, America relied primarily on “the customary products of Europe,” that is, cool-season vegetables, and most Americans maintained an English kitchen garden. But Jefferson, always a figure of innovation, created a horticultural melting pot in his garden. He planted tomatoes (a crop whose cultivation intimidated Northern Europeans), Indian corn, sesame, potato pumpkins, garlic, salsify, winter melons, and arcane, among many other crops. Many of the vegetables came from their place of origin, such as France and Italy. Jefferson even had vineyards in his Monticello garden as a result of his friendship with physician and horticulturist Philip Mazzei. His garden embodied America as the horticultural nexus linking the New and Old Worlds.

Jefferson also displayed another distinctly American value of welcoming various influences from abroad; indeed, his garden could be viewed as an Ellis Island of immigrant plants and vegetables! In terms of cuisine, Jefferson was an enthusiast of French cuisine, undoubtedly a result of his stay in France as a diplomat. His African-American chefs were trained to learn French cuisine to prepare French dishes at the Monticello kitchen. But the Jefferson household also served Mexican black bean soup; and olla, a Spanish dish; as well as foods that reflected an African-American influence on vegetable cuisine. And yet one cannot claim that Jefferson had un-American tastes; he may have been the first president to serve French fries at the President’ House and his wife Mary Randolph provided what may have been the first American recipe for potato chips!

Jefferson made it a point to have fresh produce both at the President’s House and at Monticello. But fresh food was more than just an epicurean luxury. Hatch describes Jefferson as a “champion of agriculture” who believed that the relationship between man and earth should be a core value of the new American state. Indeed, that relationship emphasizes a lifelong connection to nature’s fruits. But it also reflects man’s ability to be self-reliant. Jefferson’s expansive garden of vegetables and plants from all over the world showed that the American soil was a fertile land that could welcome a wide variety of influences, rather than a desolate wasteland that many Europeans perceived the United States to be. The concept of the garden also allowed Jefferson’s slaves to exercise autonomy to a limited extent. They would receive plots of land, and they cultivate their own gardens, using their harvest to feed their families and sell the rest to the Jefferson family. Indeed, the gardens at Monticello were maintained by individuals from all walks of life: Jefferson’s household, enslaved men, overseers, and hired European gardeners. In a sense, one can view Jefferson’s gardens as a democratic space that produced fruit, much like the United States itself.

As the country’s “First Foodie,” Jefferson left a horticultural legacy that remains influential to this day. In 2009, the Obama family planted the first vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden during World War II, and Michelle Obama has used her vegetable garden to promote her “Let’s Move” campaign of healthy eating to combat obesity. What’s more, White House Executive Chef William Yosses brought Monticello seeds and plants of cool-weather vegetables to grow a fall garden at the White House. According to Yosses, “Monticello and Thomas Jefferson were an inspiration for us from the very beginning…[it’s] really the soul of our garden here.”

Throughout his life, Jefferson collected seeds and saved them. But centuries later, we see that he not only planted the seeds in his gardens; he also planted the seeds of an emerging American cuisine, that embraced diverse gastronomical influences, and an political awareness of horticulture for succeeding generations to embrace and emulate. Fittingly, Sam Kass, Head of the White House Kitchen Garden, plans to reserve a section of the White House garden in honor of Thomas Jefferson.

Squeezed to the Last Drop: From Florida Orange Groves to the Courtroom

Merriam Webster defines “natural” as “growing without human care; not cultivated,” but one organization that does not define how the word natural can be used is the Food and Drug Administration. This absence of a definition in the food industry is at the heart of Alissa Hamilton’s Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juiceand a series of lawsuits against orange juice giant Tropicana. Hamilton’s book is the basis for the lawsuits with the research used to write the book being used as evidence in the case. Tropicana is not the first company to find itself on the legal stand to defend itself over packaging claims, Snapple was recently taken to court over using the words “all natural” on their label when their products contained high fructose corn syrup. Snapple won summary judgment in the case in January. Other companies like 7 UP and Capri Sun have faced similar complaints and voluntarily removed all natural claims from their packages. This outcome, while not what Tropicana’s advertising agency, Juniper Park, might want to hear, would satisfy Hamilton.

Alissa Hamilton, credit Bart Nagel

In a series of recent interviews Alissa Hamilton discussed the research that went into the book and what she would like to see as a result of the lawsuit.  The fundamental idea behind Squeezed is companies are not being honest with consumers about what they include in their products. For instance, the flavor packs which provide the stored orange juice with its distinct taste is not found on the ingredient list. Hamilton argues that while the chemicals “are all derived from orange . . . they are not in the concentration that nature has provided us.” This leads, then, to the overarching question of the entire debate: what is defined as natural? The question left up to the court system is whether or not Tropicana is guilty of false advertising—should it be ruled that flavor packs are not natural—and if they should be required to include the flavor packs on their ingredient list.

While the idea of paying for something that is falsely advertised is unsettling, the idea that food and beverage companies are being dishonest is even more unsettling. Hamiltonexplains, in an interview with CBC in Canada, that applying the term “natural” when the products are chemically modified renders the word meaningless.  Near the end of the book Hamilton emphasizes, “Unless we as consumers are provided with factual information, we cannot accurately assess what and what not to worry about. We cannot properly rank our priorities. We cannot make meaningful choices regarding the massive number of industrial products on the market.” Given the number of “natural” products that have taken up residence on grocery store shelves across the country the power of choice is growing, but it raises the question: how many of our choices are fully informed? The Tropicana lawsuit could face months to years in court with meetings, preliminary hearings, and appeals, but will it actually change the way consumers  look at food labels or what the producers put on those food labels?

For recent interviews with Alissa Hamilton and more coverage of Squeezed, you can check out the Associated Press article and CBC’s The National, Eyeopener, and Lang & O’Leary Exchange, or visit the Squeezed blog.

Deborah Valenze on the History of Milk

Deborah Valenze, credit: Emma V. Gilmore

In honor of National Dairy Month in June, we thought you might like a taste of Deborah Valenze’s Milk: A Local and Global History, covering the illuminating cultural history of milk, from ancient myth to modern grocery store, now available in paperback from Yale University Press.


Deborah Valenze—

Cows that have names give more milk than cows without names. This discovery won recognition at the 2009 Ig Nobel awards, an annual event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, organized to ‘first make people laugh and then make them think.’’ I didn’t laugh, though, because the question of naming cows had come up in conversations with dairy farmers I had sought out in Vermont, Switzerland, and England. A note of condescen­sion might have crept into one or two responses, but managers of milk production know what’s at stake in the question. Cows respond to sensi­tive, personalized handling; they’re acutely aware of environmental fac­tors, particularly so in the incongruous realm of modern milking machin­ery. Dairy farmers report their cows expressing joy, jealousy, sulkiness, and fear. When handlers interacted with cows with respect and affection, an­nual milk output averaged slightly more than sixty-eight gallons higher than in less friendly settings. Not for nothing did Wisconsin dairy farmers once use as their motto ‘‘Speak to a cow as you would a lady.’’ And in 1997, a major milk corporation included a kindness clause in its contract with client farmers. If one locus in the contemporary world still finds economic value in chivalry and tenderness, it’s the dairy barn.

Dairies nowadays expect to host visitors yearning for an encounter with bovine charisma. This gives farmers an opportunity to educate the public and reaffirm popular support for a beleaguered industry, con­sidered by most governments to be a revenue-draining public service.

Popular affection for cows has always helped the cause. Take, for example, the live cows bathed and milked on a merry-go-round (called a ‘‘rotolac­tor’’) exhibited at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Or the life-size ‘‘cow parade’’ figures that appeared in cities around the world in 1999, designed to elicit affection and then, it was hoped, hefty prices at charity auctions. Although not all cow paraphernalia relates to milk, most of it does in re­gions that depend on the industry. Departing from a Swiss airport requires passing through a gauntlet of cow backpacks, cream pitchers, and cow-print oven mitts. The Swiss nation is collectively in love with an animated ‘‘real’’ cow named Lovely, who dribbles soccer balls and ice skates her way through hilarious commercials for milk. I will confess to some advocacy of my own: our family car proudly displays a bumper sticker bearing a cow’s face and the words ‘‘Got Vermont?’’ The humor, of course, comes from the cow itself adopting celebrity status in the manner of one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the twentieth century.  

Cow love is intimately tied to milk history and always has been. A quick look through the annals of world mythology turns up cows of plenty and visions of oceans of milk. Not all milk in history has come from cows, but then, our attachment to cows raises an interesting historical question: how and why have we become attached to cow’s milk? This is the problem with which I began this book. As a historian of English dairying, I knew that the question was moot long ago: the eighteenth-century cow had already proven its worth as the most prolific producer of nourishment, at a time when quantity mattered more than even digestibility. As a food in­gredient, cow’s milk had more versatility and wider palatability (in other words, a blander taste) than others. Cows were quintessential docile bod­ies, suited to large-scale systematizing of production. And probably most important of all, cows were the favored domesticated farm animals of ambitious, commercial-minded western Europeans and Americans. Cows went where their masters went, which was nearly everywhere. It became apparent to me very quickly that the story of modern milk was one of conquest of space, energy, and dietary preferences. The commodity of milk today has triumphed as a universal icon of modern nutrition, despite all attempts to deny it supremacy.

But a narrative of conquest hardly does justice to what has turned out to be a story full of mystery, myth, and impassioned debate. Despite the com­pulsory feel of milk today, its history is just as often about suspicion cast on the opaque white liquid. For many centuries, milk was regarded as danger­ous and even repulsive. (And, we might add, this remains true today for some people, for different reasons.) Anthropologists tell us that human consumption of animal milk and its products constitutes an aberration of animal nature that our ancient ancestors had to rework in their own minds. Denying young animals nourishment of their mother’s milk puts progeny at risk; it requires inserting human agency where it does not belong. Transforming milk into butter and cheese represents another violation of taboo; note the telltale revulsion we feel toward, say, eating cheese made of breast milk. Non-milk-drinking cultures feel that milk is an unclean animal fluid, like urine. In eighteenth-century Buddhist Japan, milk was thought to be ‘‘white blood,’’ which, if drunk, would bring down divine retribu­tion. It is worth remembering that evolutionary geneticists see lactose tolerance, not intolerance, as the deviant trait that later spread across certain, often northern, populations. Over several millennia, religions endowed milk with added value, helping to convince consumers of its legitimacy as nourishment, apart from its identity as first food.

Milk, a liquid associated with kindness and love, has never been free from conflict throughout history. Its most obvious purpose, that of feed­ing people, developed unevenly. The bestial origins of milk marked the liquid as barbaric, at least for southern Europeans with early pretensions to civility. Urban dwellers showed disdain for the liquid, or actively feared it because of Greek dietetic proscriptions. From the sixth century, milk and dairy products were regarded as forbidden foods on Christian fast days, following Saint Gregory’s prohibition of all things that came from flesh. Few elites ever imagined drinking milk, except, perhaps, while on a recreational visit to the countryside. In small amounts, when consumed at the right times, milk products were considered safe by early medical ex­perts. But because of its perishable nature, which could easily sicken care­less consumers, milk ranked as a dangerous aliment well into the seven­teenth century.

Fortunately for the ensuing history of human food, milk also conjured up a contradictory theme from the start. Its pallor and fragrance sang of bucolic purity and abundance. In answer to the sophistication of civility, milk struck notes of simplicity. Its bounty, commonly displayed in cheese and butter, was impossible to deny, as, for instance, in the record-breaking rounds of cheese coming from Italy in the fifteenth century. Charles VIII sent a giant sample as a gift to the queen of France in 1494, perhaps hoping to impress her. By this time, cows ‘‘of broken colors’’ were already identi­fied as big milk producers in Lombardy and the Low Countries. In the Rhineland, Dutch milk earned comparison to wine and was regarded of greater value. The ‘‘Butter Tower’’ of Rouen Cathedral, constructed with donations enabling townspeople to eat butter during Lent (the Catholic Church granted ‘‘lacticinia’’ dispensations for those who offered charity), stands as a bold tribute to the French devotion to the dairy. And butter flowed from places like Bruges, where residents ate it with every meal. ‘‘Bring a knife,’’ a resident instructed a French friend in a letter.

Examples such as these convinced me of the special nature of milk and its products as subjects of history. It may be that every author sees the subject of her book as special, but in this case, I felt I had an arguable case. My hunch was buoyed up repeatedly by evidence from many fields of knowledge, besides history, that regarded milk as imbued with unique characteristics. From this, I made my primary discovery, which at first seemed simple: it was the formative—one might say definitive—role of context in shaping the path of milk through history. Each appearance of milk seemed deeply situated in its setting, or weighed down with ‘‘cultural baggage.’’ And in establishing a relationship with the product, societies seem to have generated a surplus of imaginative thoughts about milk, at times so thoroughly enmeshing it within beliefs that the actual nature of milk—if we can use that term—was eclipsed by everything else.

There can be no milk without the contexts woven into its past: this absorptive relationship happens with all food products to a greater or lesser extent, but with milk, an added virtue lay in how its cultural history had something bigger to say about the history of food. Situated in culture, milk acted as a mirror of its host society, reflecting attitudes toward na­ture, the human body, and technology. Moreover, its larger presence as a liquid in diets since the beginning of the twentieth century became a litmus test of wealth and attitudes toward modern food production. In the historical record, milk repeatedly called attention to the larger forces of change. Milk, then, becomes a marker of the emergence of a peculiarly Western food culture and its path into the modern age.

Deborah Valenze is professor of history at Barnard College. Excerpted from Milk: A Local and Global History, copyright © 2011 by Deborah Valenze.

Summer Vegetable Recipes from the Monticello Gardens

As summer begins, new cooking and eating habits begin to form: fresh produce from gardens and orchards become more widely available, but how have our practices changed alongside technological and economic developments? For most Americans, the store racks, and now even online grocers, have eliminated the agricultural pleasures, ponderings, and plenty of personal gardens, let alone transforming our access to supplies of organic food.

One of the foremost thinkers of his age and in our nation’s history, Thomas Jefferson certainly had his opinions about the food served at his home in Monticello. Peter J. Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello since 1977, explains the culinary, agricultural, and cultural history of gardening in the Jeffersonian age in the newly published, “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello. The short excerpt below describes the summertime tastes for salads and dressing, quite useful for inspiration on what vegetables to mix into a new dish.

Boiled lettuce, “much superior to spinach,” according to Bernard McMahon, was popular in the age of Jefferson. Writers recommended coarse and milky-sapped summer leaves or overgrown cabbage-type heads for boiling or soups. It seems possible that Jefferson’s insistence from 1809 to 1813 on sowing lettuces in May, June, and July was to “dress” or cook his summer lettuce rather than to eat it “raw.” Jefferson preferred lettuces that “loafed” or headed, perhaps in a more casual manner than iceberg lettuces form heads today, to lettuce “greens,” which formed the majority of the lettuce purchased from the Washington markets. Whatever their final shape, lettuce’s usual destination was the salad bowl, sometimes mixed with a bouquet of greens including spinach, orach, corn salad, endive, pepper grass, French sorrel, and sprouts. According to Mary Randolph, lettuce was gathered with other greens early in the morning, laid in cold water, sometimes including ice, and only removed hours later at dinner. Randolph’s salad dressing included oil, common and tarragon vinegar, hard-boiled egg yolks, mustard, sugar, and salt. Salads were garnished with sliced egg whites and scallions. The goal advocated by eighteenth-century English author Richard Bradley was to blend “hot” or bitter greens like cress, mustard, celery, and tarragon with “cool and insipid” lettuce, spinach, corn salad, and turnips. The ancient Romans used a dressing of hot oil and vinegar, and Landon Carter adapted this by mixing his “salad” with melted butter and vinegar. Food historian Karen Hess concludes that green salads were eaten before the main meal in nondrinking cultures but after the meal when wine was served, perhaps providing a hint as to the schedule of the salad course at Monticello, where wine was, according to Jefferson, “an indispensable to my health.”

We’re curious to know what summer recipes you have from your own garden; even more eager to share new ideas from “A Rich Spot of Earth, so definitely tell us in the comments below what you would do with these ingredients, and what you would add from your own vegetable stock.

Text excerpted from “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello. Copyright © 2012 by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Birthday Party in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden.” – Thomas Jefferson (b. April 13, 1743 – d. July 4, 1826)


In 1811, Thomas Jefferson, at home at Monticello, wrote these words in a letter to his friend Charles Willson Peale, expressing a love for gardening that proved a consistent thread in the life of a man who bore witness to the Revolutionary War, penned the Declaration of Independence, and served as the third president of a nation first beginning to grow.

In “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, Peter J. Hatch, the longtime Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, explores the physical manifestation of Jefferson’s lifelong love of gardening: the expansive, breathtaking gardens of Monticello, now over 200 years old and meticulously restored in keeping with the president’s original designs. The book, which traces the garden’s creation, Jefferson’s years of horticultural experimentation, and contemporary gardening practices that informed its daily maintenance, also features lush photographs of Monticello’s gardens and the vegetables that grew there—including a breathtaking close-up of a plant Jefferson dubbed “the most beautiful bean in the world.”

In politics, Jefferson was a champion of agriculture, arguing that the relationship between man and earth should lie at the heart of the new American state, and the gardens at Monticello are a testament this belief. Jefferson himself embodied the prototypical gentleman farmer, experimenting with new species and keeping careful records while still taking time to get his hand dirty and experience his country’s connection to the ground on which is was built.

Yet Jefferson’s garden was far more than an abstract tribute to the value of the land, for Monticello’s kitchens were stocked primarily with their harvests—meaning that the amazing 330 varieties of 99 species of vegetables and herbs Jefferson cultivated also shaped a new cuisine that mixed American and French influences. Jefferson, “our only epicurean president,” grew such exotics as sesame, potato pumpkins, chickpeas, and winter melons, taking advantage of the temperate Virginia winters and the microclimate he created in the garden’s south-facing terrace to expand his horticulture repertoire far beyond the more humble ambitions of the traditional English kitchen garden.

April 21st through the 28th marks the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, meaning that there is no better time to celebrate this most historic of all Virginia gardens, which attract more than four hundred and fifty thousand visitor annually. If you can’t make it all the way to Monticello, check out this preview of “A Rich Spot of Earth,” previously featured here on the Yale Press Log—books are on sale now!

Seriously, What Are We Drinking?: Alissa Hamilton on Orange Juice

With the federal lawsuit being brought against Tropicana on the basis of alleged consumer fraud for their packaging and distribution of “100% pure and natural” orange juice, Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, has been commenting on the industry practices that are involved in producing everyone’s favorite breakfast drink. Most people are unaware of the “flavor packs” used to make orange juice, even when it’s “not from concentrate”, and Hamilton explores the insider history behind the relationship between the FDA, orange juice producers, and consumers.

“The orange juice companies market their premium brands as fresh-squeezed and better than concentrated,” Hamilton told ABC News, “but it’s a heavily processed product.” What’s more is that more complaints have surfaced in response to the FDA testing of orange juice for carbendazim, a fungicide banned in the United States but legal in Brazil from where much of America’s orange juice is imported.

Today, Hamilton will appear on the Dr. Oz Show to discuss consumer safety concerns. Tune in and learn more about the book and other coverage of the orange juice industry on the “Squeezed” blog.

Lest We Forget: Killing by the Numbers

Sarah Underwood—

Sometimes, the forgetting of history is accidental and gradual—a lost document, a mistranslation, or the unfortunate lack of a written record in the first place. On other occasions, events do not have to pass into history before they are forgotten. Those are the ones that are concealed from the start and for a reason. In Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight, Timothy Pachirat tries to discover the reason for the extensive concealment within American slaughterhouses. In June 2004, the author took an entry-level position in an Omaha slaughterhouse and found that the work was so contained that although it is certainly hidden from consumers and the outside world, it is also concealed from the workers inside the walls.

In his first job in the slaughterhouse, Pachirat hangs approximately twenty-five hundred livers a day inside the slaughterhouse’s cooler. His isolation from the actual death of the cattle, combined with the monotony of his work, shows him how “killing evaporates into a routinized, almost hallucinatory, blur.” The main function of slaughterhouses is concealed from the workers themselves by both the sameness of the work (“Five hooks, dip the rag, wring it. Five hooks, dip the rag, wring it.”) and the extremely nuanced division of labor—Pachirat includes an appendix of the 121 positions it takes to process just one cow.

The existence of a single one of these 121 jobs allows the other 120 workers to maintain the belief that they do not take part in the deaths that occur every twelve seconds in the slaughterhouses. This worker is the “knocker,” who shoots a bolt gun into the cow’s head. Most of the workers understand the knocker to be the only employee to actually kill the cattle. In reality, the knocker only begins a process that lasts for fifty feet on the kill floor. The bolt gun does not necessarily kill the cow, nor does it even always render it unconscious. Other provisions have to be made for cattle that are still conscious as they are dragged along the kill floor. On the production line, there is no black-and-white division between “alive” and “dead,” but rather a grey area that lasts for long minutes.

The author’s point, however, is not to provide gruesome scenes for voyeurs or enrage us with sensationalism. Instead, he shows how the affects the people whose lives are forever altered by the work their circumstances force them to take. When Pachirat suggests to his coworkers that he is interested in taking a position as a knocker, one man says, “Nobody wants to do that. You’ll have bad dreams.” Another tells him that knockers have to attend therapy sessions because “…that will mess you up…that’s killing.” The responsibility of slaughtering is ostensibly placed on one worker, so while the 120 are somewhat separated from the work, the one (knocker) is separated from both the work and all of his coworkers. All of the workers are affected in ways that most of us would not want to imagine when we buy products from modern meatpacking companies. When another person has to go home every night wiping brains from his face or pulling guts from her hair, though, we start to consider why we know so little about the conditions under which our food is produced.

Sarah Underwood is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and a former Yale University Press intern. Her column, Lest We Forget, appears on the Yale Press Log.