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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674055721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674055728
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

John Allen combines evolution and modern biology to produce a feast of fresh ideas about our eating habits. The Omnivorous Mind is a fascinating reflection on the deep meanings of food. (Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human)

There's lots of terrific information about why we like crispy foods and how food drove evolution...[A] substantial tour of human history by way of the dinner plate. (Jesse Rhodes Smithsonian blog 2012-02-14)

Whether we're obsessing over intricate recipes or daydreaming about chocolate, our minds are often focused on food...Allen uses this mental gustation as a lens on our biological and cultural past, through anthropology, food history and the experience of chefs. The result is a banquet. Ranging over food cravings and aversions, cultural preferences and diets, he serves up plenty of amuse-bouches, not least an unusual take on the global love for the crispy and crunchy. (Nature 2012-04-05)

An authoritative...guide to the ways in which humans eat with their minds as much as their stomachs. This includes the relationship between food and memory, language and diets, and the importance of categorizing foodstuffs...Anyone curious about the human condition will welcome the diversity. (Catherine de Lange New Scientist 2012-04-28)

[Has] a refreshing emphasis on the physiological and evolutionary aspects of our relationship with food. Recommended for readers seeking a better understanding of their complex relationship with food and its biological and cultural significance. (Jon Bodnar Library Journal 2012-05-01)

[Allen's] lucid, careful examination of how we think about food (as well as how our brains receive input about food, whether we're actively cogitating about it or not) is a welcome addition to the growing bookshelf exploring the brain, about which we know more and more but never, somehow, enough. (Kate Tuttle Boston Globe 2012-05-13)

In The Omnivorous Mind [Allen] explores our biological equipment for taste and the ways in which each culture builds a unique cuisine upon a shared cognitive blueprint...Allen admirably conveys that our varied taste is both what makes us human and what marks each of us as an individual. (Leo Coleman Wall Street Journal 2012-05-20)

John S. Allen's The Omnivorous Mind is a clever and original take on how we think about food. Allen is a research scientist, which means that he's less interested in the cultural history of food--how the pickle migrated from Eastern Europe to New York, for example--than he is in hard appetite. Allen's approach involves the intriguing, if inconclusive, results that come from peering at brain scans and noticing which bits light up when we're asked to think about different foods. Some of his best conclusions involve mapping current food preferences onto the long march of evolutionary biology. (Kathryn Hughes Prospect 2012-05-01)

In The Omnivorous Mind, neuroscientist John Allen takes the long view of our eating habits, tracing their development through the evolution of our species. He expands on the increasingly widespread view that "the obesity epidemic that is occurring in developed countries throughout the world is ultimately a result of placing bodies and minds evolved for one environment in one that is wholly different." The emphasis here is on "minds," as Allen convincingly argues that our capacious brains have been profoundly shaped by the need to ensure a steady food supply. The reward pathways in our grey matter therefore compel us towards the sugariness that denotes ripe fruit or the fattiness of high-energy meat. But this system honed to extract the most calories from an unforgiving environment leads us badly astray when it is placed in a land of plenty. There is, however, hope. Our eating habits are rooted in our physiology but they are, nonetheless, also mediated by the culture in which we grow up. This is evident, for example, in the case of taboos, in which different cultures frown upon the consumption of some perfectly good foodstuffs, such as pork (as in Judaism or Islam), beef (in India) or insects (most of the western world). Allen astutely compares this to learning a mother tongue: we are all born hard-wired to acquire language, but which language we learn depends on our culture. Similarly, we are all born ready to acquire ideas of what counts as food and how to get it, but which food ideas we acquire depends on our upbringing. Applying this to the obesity problem, Allen argues we can shift our food culture towards a lower-calorie model, emphasizing more sophisticated pleasures than the salt/sugar/fat hit provided by a culture of pizza and ice-cream. This is like switching to a second language: it is not a simple decision but involves a great deal of effort and mental readjustment. Indeed, he claims, many diets fail because they underestimate just what a radical step it is for us to change these imprinted eating patterns. (Stephen Cave Financial Times 2012-06-15)

In this natural history of food, eating, and the mind, readers learn how cognition relates to the human experience of food and how eating shapes complex cognitive processes. (A. P. Boyar Choice 2012-11-01)

About the Author

John S. Allen is Research Scientist at Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and the Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California.

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Customer Reviews

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I highly recommend this book--your mind and your tummy will both love it!
John McLean
The author did a nice job of making this book accessible, informative and entertaining all at the same time, which is a truly difficult task!
Real People
It made me smile and think and I learned far more than I could have hoped.
g

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John McLean on June 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A mind blowing book! As the author of The Low Carb Revolution: Why the Secret to Losing Weight is to Fall Back in Love With Yourself! I have a deep understanding of how the body interacts with what we put into it, but John S. Allen has taken my thinking about food to a whole new dimension!

He brilliantly describes how we each build up our own internal Food Model, which helps us navigate the otherwise overwhelming complexity we face each day about what to eat and what not to eat. At the heart of any individual's food model lay our deepest memories of what and how we ate during our childhood. As we progress through life, our food model can either evolve--especially if we expose ourselves to new and different food models from other countries and cultures--or it can remain narrow and unfulfilling.

He shows again and again that for all the time we spend thinking about food, we never really "think" about it in any kind of meaningful way...but this book will certainly help change that!

John S. Allen also discusses how our mind must first rewrite our food model before we'll ever allow ourselves to explore new and different culinary options. I like to think of this internal model as our Food Map. Some people never foot outside their hometown in their entire lives--and so for them a map of the surrounding county or state would be of no particular value. But for those possessed of perhaps more wanderlust and curiosity, a map is indispensable to their travels. "The Omnivorous Mind" shows how the same concept applies to our willingness to "visit" new foods.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luis Viegas on August 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will make you think much harder about what, how, and why you eat. Excellent food for thought. I highly recommend this book.
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By Real People on December 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This a a very well-written, informative and often entertaining book on the anthropological roots of our contemporary diet and cuisines. The author did a nice job of making this book accessible, informative and entertaining all at the same time, which is a truly difficult task! An awesome book!
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By g on June 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This volume has everything I ask for in a book.
It made me smile and think and I learned far more than I could have hoped.

On less then 300 pages John S. Allen succeeds in enlightening us on the multifaceted interactions of humans and their food through the ages, with special emphasis on the human brain.

This astonishing polymath puts all the elements in place and in the end we feel very comfortable with his concept of a theory of food.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Patricia M. Mallette on December 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My husband asked for this book on his Kindle Fire. He found it informative about food and spices. I'm eager to read it now.
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