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Health and Sanity

Melissa Hutsell
Freelance Writer and Editor
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piqer: Melissa Hutsell
Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Peanut Butter Grandma, A Housewife Who Changed The Face of Food Regulation

Uncertain Hour is produced by Marketplace. The series explores one controversial topic per season. Season 2 focuses on “Red Tape”, or regulations in America. The first three episodes examine the “Peanut Butter Wars”, a years-long battle that upended the “peanut butter industrial complex”. The case is an example of how federal regulations are made in the U.S.

“Most people ignore it. But [regulations are] shaping every moment of our lives,” says host Krissy Clark. 

There was a turning point in history that changed people’s relationship with regulations and their views on who the regulations protect. That story begins with Ruth Desmond, AKA the Peanut Butter Grandma, a 1950s housewife from Virginia.

Desmond started to investigate the food she fed her family after her husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer. She didn't want it to reoccur, so she dug into the latest research on cancer and its possible causes. It led her to studies on the potential role of chemical additives and pesticide residues in food.

Desmond grew alarmed. She contacted the FDA, attended hearings, took notes, and wrote. She released a newsletter and the created the Federation of Homemakers.

The podcast then dives into the development of food and the effects that industrialization and war had on America’s food supplies.

Food — what’s in it, where it comes from, and how long it lasts — changed during Desmond’s lifetime, says Clark. There were no synthetic pesticides in 1907, no fridges. The milk Desmond drank came from her own cow. Suddenly, food came in packages designed to sit on shelves.

The episode goes on to explain how Desmond brought attention to toxic additives in food and leads into her role when America put peanut butter on trial.

To hear more details — including the story of “The Poison Squad” and insight into the “Cranberry Hearings” — listen to this episode, “Episode 1: The Peanut Butter Grandma goes to Washington”.

Peanut Butter Grandma, A Housewife Who Changed The Face of Food Regulation
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