This is a frightening book. We've become used to food scares - chickens with avian flu, mad cow disease, the dangers of farmed salmon - and adjusted our diet accordingly. But what, besides green leaves, goes into those oh-so-handy bags of salad? What is bread really made of? And what is the human price of cheap and convenient foodstuffs?
Guardian journalist Felicity Lawrence has spent more than twenty years investigating the British food industry and 'Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate' is the result of her labours. While some of the areas she touches on are more specific to the UK than to Ireland, many of the facts that she unearths are close enough to food practices on this island to give nightmares to the average shopper.
Although readers might choose to skip some chapters (I personally averted my eyes from the chicken section) this is a well-written and gripping book, crammed full of stark and disturbing facts about the food you eat every day. But there's little everyday common decency involved, from illegal migrant labourers to environmental devastation to dodgy dealings in the supermarket world.
The outlook may seem all doom and gloom but Lawrence adds a (slightly) reassuring afterword, encouraging people to vote with their feet. By making practical changes in shopping patterns and buying locally, seasonally and directly - in local farmers' markets, for example - every individual can make a difference.