The nefarious tradesman may have successfully managed to chase the hapless Professor Accum out of town yet the memory of Accum’s accusations continued to trouble British society. For the sake of the public good Parliament determined to give the damp, rat-infested corridor a good spring clean – but it lacked the turn-key to unlock the door to the filthy space infested by men of ill-intent.
Enter Thomas Wakely, Arthur Hassel and Dr. Henry Letheby quintessential men of their time. Learned, analytical and methodical to the core. Could it be these men were the inspiration behind Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes? Relying on the microscope, the fastidious scientific recordings of their research and the Analytical Sanitary Commission they were able to prove, conclusively, that food was adulterated – better still they could prove who the adulterer was. In the end, it was all so elementary.
At the same time but working across the channel in France the brilliant Louis Pasteur was beginning to reveal a whole new, hidden world of creepy-crawly-critters living in food and beverages which we now know to be yeasts and bacteria. The early assumption that all micro-organisms are pathogens and on course to destroy our food and us set the developed world on a course to do battle with micro-organisms for over a century. Last but not least it would be amiss were we not to consider the numerous scientists working on identifying the mystery elements in food which formed a “vital component in supporting life.” Following decades of research and with the work of a number of men and women of science we now know that these vital components are vitamins: A, B, C, D, E and K.
The nature of food during the period of candid thinking
The legislator could no longer ignore the well intended works of medical experts, chemists, nutritionists and early micro-biologists. Parliament had to legislate for the public good and legislate they did with some of the most comprehensive and wide-spread food laws ever seen. Parliament now had the turn-key to enter the darkened corridor, fling the shutters open wide and sweep the floor clean of the filth. In the end, it stood to reason that reason was right and the romantics wrong.
Thanks to a water-tight body of law the cook could no longer gob in the pot when no one was looking. Where Britain led other industrialised countries followed. The new, codified food safety laws, with an emphasis on safety standards, scientific certainty and regular inspections allowed late nineteenth century populations to believe their food was free from adulterations, free from bacteria and above all nutritious. A confidence that resonates through the decades to this very day.
The light of reason saved us from this gothic horror. The Food of Darkness is now at an end.
Our new found faith in science encourages us all to feel secure in consuming food prepared by tradesmen in factories far, far away and behind closed doors. The days of nefarious tradesmen, ghoulish spooks and spiders hiding in the cobwebs, we say with a shudder of relief, are long gone. We no longer need fear the repugnant, putrefying bugs that are ready to infest out fresh food. We no longer need concern ourselves with an under-class blighted by the effects of malnutrition.
A codified body of food safety regulations based on scientific findings acted as the sharpened scissor ready to cut the ancient oral thread which had governed our food culture for millennia during the classical period – but it was our love of reason that acted as the final cut. The patterns were no longer just loosened and unfolding they were being severed from our very consciousness.
From henceforth as far as our food culture is concerned science is the truth, the light and the way.
Populations in the western world began to rely ever less on the unrecorded, unwritten oral thread to determine safety, quality and best practice. They began, instead to lean heavily on the scientific findings emanating from world renowned academies and research institutes. Where once our elders stood as guardians to our food choices they were now slowly but surely being inched off their pedestals and replaced by a pantheon of scientists.
The early romanticists with their fluffy ideas of nature were wrong. Nature is unpredictable, unstable, precocious. Like a hysterical woman with an overactive imagination she needs to be hidden away in the attic for her own good and the good of others.