Friday, February 21, 2014

60-Second Book Review: Fear of Food, by Harvey Levenstein

I also recommend the wonderful review here; but I've enjoyed putting together this 60-second romp through a food book I recently read, Harvey Levenstein's Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat.

About a hundred years ago, some of the food and nutrition headlines ran thus:

Flies are touching everything! Now we need individual packaging. Constipation is poisoning our gut! Now we need yogurt and enemas (or even yogurt enemas, a la Kellogg's Sanitarium). Outbreaks of food poisoning are coming from animal products! Now we need government inspectors and stamps of approval. Vitamins are discovered! Now we need to add invisible, nearly-magical substances to every food and drink we can.

Really, it's amazing how little has changed - at least philosophically - in those hundred years. Don't we still somehow feel safer and healthier if we eat yogurt and 'inspected' meat and personally-sized packs of vitamin-boosted or phytonutrient-rich foods?

What was really most interesting about Levenstein's research was not necessarily what foods actually are or aren't safe -- he's not a nutritionist, he's a historian -- but how the public gets told and shown what foods to seek out, how they make their purchase choices, and the various industrial and governmental agencies that have orchestrated and collaborated in the process.

But the hugest, hugest takeaway was that we're still running in the same hamster wheel. It's hard to overstate the odd sense of deja-vu you get reading through the fascinating vintage ads and scientific studies.

And Levenstein's final chapter? Lipophobia, or fear of fat. (See my prior post!) Will history laugh at us, as we laugh at the 1912 pamphlet stating that flies "kill more people than all the lions, tigers, snakes, and even wars"? Very likely...

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