So, now I’ve started my morning by reading The Atlantic Monthly article. The book title caught my attention as I’ve recently been reading that except for those with celiac, there’s an idea that people on the gluten free bandwagon actually have a problem with the additional yeast that’s necessary to manufacture bread quickly as opposed to a slow rise. Sounds logical.
I’ll buy the book for my bedtime reading. I’m not being sarcastic, as I actually enjoy reading thought provoking books in bed. Either that or baking books. : )
Louise- We’re the same, I also read either a baking book or though-provoking book before bed. ; ) I think Levinovitz might have another explanation for the non-celiac response to gluten, but I’ll let you read about that.
I read a recent article online about the book which piqued my interest. I’ll have to get it. His critique of what’s happened with our culture of eating; the fear, the individual specificity of diet, the navel gazing, the control-freakishness and what that does to the simple daily necessity and joy of eating has not been written about enough and I’m so curious to get his take. Thank you for the post.
As a food journalist based in the Middle East, I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! Sounds like a brilliant provocative read!
It is pretty alarming the increase in intolerances in recent years. But there is a lot of gunk in a lot of foods, that is also true. Food is certainly one of the most marketed consumer goods so of course there is a lot of hype in support of whoever has something to sell :)
There has been an ongoing wave of pushback against the “bad’ terminology we blindly accept when it comes to food (“chemicals,” “toxins,” etc) and I am a fan of all of it. I’m going to send this to my father who claims that you can lose weight by eliminated “processed” food but refuses to give up his 2-3 cocktails a night. Uhh, okay, sure, blame the processed food.
I would be interested to read this book. As a registered dietitian (RD), I come across and hear myths about how we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat on a daily basis. I agree that people have gotten rather anxious about food in general, and it doesn’t need to be this way. As for “lack of” scientific evidence, I find there is plenty and you just have to know where to look. The local news station touting the curing power of blueberries or acai is probably going to blow up a single, small study rather than many collective ones. Kind of pushes people away from getting a really good perspective when we have all of these black and white sayings/beliefs about food.
Thank you for posting this! I have a PhD in food science and can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been cornered at parties and given a verbal lashing (“But food and science shouldn’t go together– it’s wrong!”). The current belief system about dietary intake and backlash against science has made it incredibly difficult to have rational, logical conversations.
No one eats scientifically. We eat instinctively and, if we are so lucky, evaluatively–meaning we attach what we know about the food in front of us to our value system and then choose to eat (or not) accordingly. Nutrition science is a very useful source for “what we know” about the food in front of us. But it can’t make the decision for us about whether or not to eat. Values always have to be attached to knowledge before we can act on it. Those values may be very hidden, but they’re always there. It’s true, some of us have a very strong value associated with eating that says something like, “I prioritize eating things that nutrition science has found are optimal for human health” (and a corresponding negative version for “unhealthy” foods). But of course most of us have strong values associated with eating that have nothing whatsoever to do with nutrition science, such as religious values, eco-conservation values, values related to self-esteem and familial bonds, etc.
That being said, what’s interesting to me in the anecdote you related from Levinovitz’s book (and in your mini-anecdote about congratulating yourself for drinking red wine) isn’t what these stories say about food pseudoscience, but rather what they say (a) about the ways we re-interpret legitimate nutrition science as “proof” of the validity of our strong food beliefs that have nothing to do with nutrition (religion, family, etc.); and (b) the hidden eating-values these stories reveal (spiritual adherence to all things “natural” in the first story and a commitment to eating what scientists tell you to in the second). In short, I’m not sure the interesting problem is food pseudoscience. The more interesting problem is the organizing myth of late-modern life: “If it’s scientific, it’s good.” That link between “scientific” and “good,” I have found, is not straightforward and is often poorly examined.
Thanks for these articles, Tim; they’re always so good and so smart.
Thanks for posting! I have to get this. Not quite the same topic, but Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes is a great read. He basically argues that most diets and the US Food Pyramid are based on faulty science and industry lobbying. He recommends a high-fat diet for serious weight loss, among other things.
I think it was the Daily Show that did a a great piece interviewing people who were gluten free, but hardly any could describe what gluten was–or why it might be bad.
I’m not so sure, Lynda. That doesn’t ring true to me. I’m not sure what eating scientifically means. But I think the current thinking is that science=bad. The movement toward “how our grandparents ate” and the fear of “processed” food and anti-GMOs and paleo and anti-vaccination, it all seems anti-science. Also, the constant stream of conflicting studies which lead people to believe that “scientists don’t know what they’re talking about!” I don’t think the problem is the science itself (and I hope I didn’t imply that), but the way we (and more importantly the media) are reporting and responding to it. Also the inherent flaws/challenges in nutritional science, which make it very difficult to determine causation. Also, I definitely got the belief that red wine was good for me from the science. But I like your thoughts…maybe we are just interested in different things here…
I had not heard of this book, but will certainly be checking it out. It’s a scary world of gross generalizations and cross-connections out there, with lots of muddying and hyper-vigilance going on in between.
As a cookbook editor, I see it first hand. We’re actually working on a book right now about a woman who quit veganism and endeared and INSANE amount of backlash for her decision. The foreword is written by a doctor who coined the phrase “orthorexia,” or an extreme obsession with only eating healthy food to a point wherein it becomes dangerous (e.g., cleanse after cleanse after cleanse). Sadly, this type of eating/living seems be becoming a form of identity for a lot of people, or at least a badge of honor.
As a professor of philosophy and religious studies, is Mr. Levinovitz qualified to speak on whether avoiding certain types of foods is more or less healthy for us? I agree with his opinion about the zealous pursuit, by whatever measure, of dietary perfection, and I am interested in reading his book. However, there actually may be some modern dietary options that would be best to avoid completely.
I don’t understand the anti-anti-gluten backlash. Who cares what other people eat? Unless they’re annoying about it, and then that’s a person to person issue and should be addressed as such. I feel like bread or pasta sometimes give me symptoms similar to an allergy attack, and I’m certain that sugar makes me feel groggy. Could I be wrong about both of those reactions? Maybe. But who cares. If it helps me be more in touch with what and how I eat, great. I recently started a 30 day no-sugar kick. It’s a little wacky, sure (no beans? Come on.), but I’m thinking really clearly about what I eat, which is refreshing, and my body feels better. Similarly, a dear friend is a pain management doctor. He says that, regularly, patients come in with pain throughout their bodies that they can’t explain. They give up gluten and it goes away. Are his patients making it up, or responding to a placebo effect? Maybe. But, again, if they feel better, who cares? Likewise, I thought that Daily Show clip was really mean spirited. If an anti-gluten diet is working for someone, and s/he has no idea what it is, how is that my business? it just seems like another way to ridicule people, and I feel like we don’t need much help in that area.
I have not heard of this book, but it sounds like it discusses a lot of issues I have with many ‘food movements’ generally. So much to say, so much that would better be said over coffee than in a blog comment :) Signed, your favorite MPH fake-food-blogger who has access to PubMed
YES! I think about this topic constantly. I love how Levinovitz brings up the topic of honey, sugar, and corn syrup. I have come to a head with this topic on several occasions, however Whole Foods tends to be the main culprit. As a frequent sampler at Whole Foods, I sometimes have to restrain myself when the “gf, all natural, green” product sales rep announces to me that the sample I am trying has “no sugar” and is sweetened instead with honey, as if that makes the product infinitely healthier! But, what I think is so interesting, is how food corporations have seemed to caught on to what Levinovitz is saying and largely why the are so successful, they cater not to our scientific beliefs, but our greatest fears and hopes.
As a nutriton educator and recent MPHer, I think that it is paramount that we start to use frameworks like Levinovitz’s to help us understand 1) why people eat the way that they do and 2) why it can be so easy for people to latch on to “program diets” or food movements and why it is actually quite hard for people to permanently change their eating habits.
On another note, I highly recommend taking a look at Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics.
This sounds really intriguing, I”ll have to read it. Since I haven’t read it, I don’t feel like I can comment on the book itself, only on the conversation around it. I’ve been having an issue lately with a lot of rhetoric around “anti-science” movements vs. “scientifically proven” anything. It seems to me that there is a lot of vitriol aimed at anyone who questions the science. I don’t think being against GMOs or processed food has anything to do with being against science, I think it has to do with questioning the science that is being done and the lack of convincing answers. As someone who reads studies as a part of my job, I can tell you there are lots of studies out there that are extremely poor quality but that can be pointed to as science that backs up any position. Science as I understand it has to do with asking questions (a hypothesis) and finding ways to disprove those questions. We should always ask questions, and I like that this book seems to be asking us to question our beliefs around some beliefs that are held as scientific truths. I don’t know that I want to eat scientifically. Like Samantha, I think there should be room to eat in a way that makes us happy and comfortable. And if that isn’t hurting or annoying anyone else, what’s the harm in letting them?