A Book Worth Reading

Written by Lydia Benedict.

Over two years ago I started down a path to clean up my diet and my family’s.  I had thought that mine was a healthy one: full of fresh fruits and vegetables, a little lean meat, and plenty of grains.  But that was before I had an appreciation for how our national food system showers our food with pesticides, bathes it in chlorine, or injects it with antibiotics and growth hormones.  And what is fresh anyway?  Fresh off the boat from Costa Rica or fresh off the truck from California is not my idea of fresh.

The more I learned, the less I ate conventionally grown/raised food.  Increasingly disgusted with our centralized, industrial food system, I urged Jeff to write a book about food.  At first he just listened.  Then he started to notice how frequently food poisoning cases made the news.  He was investigating the 2009 salmonella outbreak related to peanuts when he came across the story that captivated his attention for the past two years.

Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E.Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat is the result of those two years that Jeff spent investigating the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak.  He tells the story like he was there, taking readers to the scene of the outbreak.  Grab a box of Kleenex.  The book opens with the heartbreaking story of Lauren Rudolph; a little girl who succumbs to E.Coli 0157:H7.  But it is also a story of miracles as you see 10-year-old Brianne Kiner wake from a 40 day coma brought on by Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) from E.Coli.  You will smile when you watch this same little girl learn to walk again.  And you will cheer when she and her mother stand up to testify at a Congressional hearing.  

Poisoned is also the story of a young lawyer, Bill Marler, finding his path in life.  His journey is not free of bumps and hurdles, but Marler not only clears each one—he is better for it.  And when he finds his path, he charges down it—not recklessly—but thoughtfully.  You will root for this man when he does what lawyers are taught not to do: make a case personal.  It can’t be helped.  When Marler meets Brianne Kiner for the first time in the hospital, her body ravaged by E.Coli, he can’t help thinking that it could have been his own daughter.  Not unlike Suzanne Kiner, you too will recognize that Bill Marler was the man—more than the lawyer—that was meant to advocate for Suzanne and her daughter Brianne.

                                                                                                  Bill MarlerBill Marler

Additionally, Poisoned is a story about the corporation that held the smoking gun.  While at first Jack in the Box is clearly the villain, that judgment becomes hazy as you meet the key players from that team.  Jeff demonstrates just how complicated our food industry has become as you watch the doctors and health officials try to track down where a hamburger sold at Jack in the Box began its journey.  Along the way, you see just how broken the regulatory system for food safety has become.  You will see politicians saving face by focusing the attention on Jack in the Box instead of the regulations Congress failed to enforce.  You may even take a personal vow: Don’t wait for the government to make food safe.

The intertwined stories of Poisoned are put together seamlessly in a book that reads like a novel.  However, if fiction is what you’re looking for, then look elsewhere.  This true story will take you inside corporate boardrooms, hospital rooms, and even a cemetery.   Some scenes will make you cry, some will make you cheer, and all will make you think.  What if my child was lying in a hospital bed on the brink of death because he ate food tainted with E.Coli 0157:H7?  Where does my food come from?  Was it grown or raised in an unhealthy environment?  How many people handled the food while it was being processed and shipped?  Were the facilities sanitary where the food was processed?  With such distance between the farm and the fork, do I take a chance on factory food?  For me, the answer is clear: I seek food from people and places I know…personally.