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10 Times In History When Everyday Foods Caused Horrific Events

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When you think of horrific events that have taken place over the course of history, you most likely attribute them to war, disease, and natural disasters. Those are three of the biggest culprits of human suffering.

But, you probably didn’t know that food has also caused a lot of serious problems during certain periods in the past. You might not think that something as unassuming as what we eat has caused a lot of turmoil, but you’d be surprised!

Here are 10 foods that, throughout history, have been the cause of some very problematic events…

1. Bread: During the 1800s, the population of England was rapidly growing, and by 1850, London had become the largest city in the world. This sudden spike resulted in more demand for food, which created a horrible shortage. Since there weren’t enough ingredients available, bread manufacturers started stuffing their loaves with any material they could find—and not necessarily edible, either—so they could produce as much as possible. Things like chalk, toxic alum, and plaster of Paris made their way into dough, leading to an epidemic of severe stomach problems and even death in some cases.

2. Corn: In the early 20th century, thousands of people who lived in the southern United States began developing skin lesions and mental disturbances. A doctor named Joseph Goldberger eventually determined that, because the poorer residents of the southern states were living on a diet that consisted almost entirely of corn, they were prone to a severe niacin deficiency known as “pellagra.”


3. Wine: In the late 1400s, an Englishman named George Plantagenet was involved in a power struggle with his brother, King Edward IV. The king foiled George’s plans to remove him from the throne, and he had him drowned in a barrel of his favorite drink: malmsey wine.

4. Chocolate: In the early 20th century, candy manufacturers discovered a new ingredient that supposedly had invigorating qualities for anyone who consumed it. That ingredient was radium, but at the time, they had no idea it was extremely radioactive. Naturally, a disease known as radium necrosis spread throughout the country, and victims developed deadly tumors in their jaws.


5. Fish: Eating raw fish is always risky, but for people who love sushi, they’re more than willing to do it. However, one fish in particular, blowfish, is far more dangerous to consume than any other. The organs are full of a toxin called tetrodotoxin, which causes paralysis in its victims. Twenty-three people have died over the last 16 years due to the fish’s improper preparation.


6. Water: In 1903, the city of Ithaca, New York, faced a horrific outbreak of typhoid fever due to a tainted water supply. A negligent construction company that was in charge of building Ithaca’s Six Mile Creek Dam failed to include a water filtration system, resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people.

7. Nutmeg: During the 1600s, the English and Dutch waged a horrific war against each other over this spice. Nutmeg was seen as a status symbol among the wealthy, but it could only be found on the Indonesian island chain of Bandas. The quest to claim the nutmeg caused English and Dutch forces to commit atrocities not only on each other, but on the innocent residents of the island as well.


8. Cheese: In 1985, California cheese manufacturer Jalisco Products produced a large batch of the favorite dairy item without adhering to proper pasteurization guidelines. Residents of southern California were hit with an outbreak of the neurological disease listeriosis, which caused convulsions and death. Over 60 people died as a result.

9. Grain: During the 15th and 16th centuries, Medieval England was hit with something called “English sweating sickness.” Victims would sweat profusely, suffer heart palpitations, and then drop dead within 24 hours of being infected. Researchers believed that the hantavirus was to blame. It was transmitted in the waste products of rodents who ate the batches of grain while it was stored in cellars.


10. Rye: During the Middle Ages, Europe suffered from a plague known as “St. Anthony’s fire,” which caused people to suffer severe hallucinations and a horrible burning sensation in their appendages. Botanists were able to figure out that a fungus known as Claviceps purpurea was the culprit. This deadly growth sprouted alongside fields of rye, and workers in medieval mills would accidentally grind it in with the rest of the untainted grains.

Who knew that something as simple as wheat or cheese could cause so much damage? Thankfully, manufacturers now follow much stricter health policies than they did years ago.

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