It’s always a pleasure to write about someone known to you. In this instance it is to praise Carolyn Cobbold’s new book. In A Rainbow Palate: How Chemical Dyes changed the West’s Relationship with Food (University of Chicago Press, 2020), Carolyn explores how the widespread use of a new wave of bright coal tar dyes began to transform the Western world in the nineteenth century. Originally intended for textiles, these new chemical substances soon permeated daily life in unexpected ways, and by the time the risks and uncertainties surrounding the synthesised chemicals began to surface, they were being used in everything from clothes and home furnishings to cookware and food. Because the potentially harmful synthetic dyes were among the earliest contested chemical additives in food, their use and regulation offers striking insights and parallels to today’s campaigns against modified foods. Carolyn explores the mutual interactions of science, commerce, industry, government, journalism, culture and law to outline the dilemma of scientific progress versus unnatural adulteration of foodstuffs and reviews our understanding of food, science, and technology, as well as trust in science and scientists. It is well-written, using clear language that makes this an accessible and readable for non-scientists.
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