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Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) Hardcover – June 18, 2013
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Nutritionism is an important contribution to the discourse of the alternative food movement, providing a unique, scholarly rationale for the food-quality paradigm. Gyorgy Scrinis provides a new language for talking about how our ideas about what makes a good diet have come to be. (Charlotte Biltekoff, University of California, Davis)
Scrinis details the ideology of 'nutritionism,' in which the great majority of dietary advice is reduced to statements about a few nutrients. The resulting cascade is nutrient-based dietary guidelines, nutrition labeling, food engineering, and food marketing. I agree with Scrinis that a broader focus on foods would lead to quite a different scientific and political cascade, including a more healthful diet for many people and a different relationship between the public and the food industry. (David Jacobs, Mayo Professor of Public Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota)
This book artfully brings together two fields. One is the huge body of scholarly and popular texts that provide nutritional advice, or tell us what to eat. Scrinis has combed through this literature in exhaustive detail to provide a magnificent synthesis. The other field is what I would call critical nutrition studies, referring to a growing literature that interrogates and historicizes nutritional advice. Scrinis critiques this on its own terms and then suggests other approaches to evaluating food. (Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism)
It is an arithmetic of which too many of us are capable―casting our eyes over our plates and calculating under our breath the balance of carbohydrate, protein, calorie, and other nutritional values. The origins of this very modern, very capitalist grace are laid bare in Gyorgy Scrinis's important, iconoclastic, and long-awaited study. If you care about the nutritional content of your food, you should care about why you care. Nutritionism, in large doses, has the answers. (Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World System)
Clear and readable overview of food, diet, and what we do and don't know about it. (Colorado Springs Independent)
An impressive work of detailed scholarship and highly recommended for academic library Health & Medicine reference collections. (Library Bookwatch)
About the Author
Gyorgy Scrinis is a lecturer in food politics in the School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His research addresses the politics, sociology, and philosophy of food and of science and technology.
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Taking a liberal quote from the very start of this book, you can easily get a taste (sic) of things to come: "Margarine has been the chameleon of manufactured food products, able to transform its nutritional appearance, adapt to changing nutritional fads and charm unwitting nutrition experts and nutrition-conscious consumers. While research published by nutrition scientists in the early 1990s on the harmfulness of the trans-fats in margarine temporarily unveiled its highly processed and degraded character, margarine has subsequently been reinvented as a trans-fat-free, cholesterol-lowering 'functional food.'"
So are we getting the wool pulled over our eyes by suave marketeers and big business? Possibly... Margarine was developed by a French chemist in the late nineteenth century and up until the 1960s, it was generally viewed as a cheap butter substitute, only used by those who couldn't afford the "real thing." Yet now butter is the big, bad nasty and margarine (a manufactured, chemically-reconstituted vegetable oil with various colouring agents and added vitamins) is the grand saviour. Really?
After reading through this book will you ever look at food, diets and so-called advice in the same light again? Naturally, the veracity (or not) of the information portrayed in this book is beyond the scope of this review, yet the author has presented some seemingly well-researched, clearly written opinions that make for a compelling, troubling and quite alarming read. As befits an academic book of this kind, there is a wealth of footnotes and bibliographic references so you can drill down to the source and interpret things for yourself should you so desire. Despite this being an academically-focussed book, the author manages to still make this an accessible read to the interested "generalist". You are not going to get a "this diet good, this diet bad" type of approach and you will need to interpret much yourself, but you will finish this book with a much broader, more eyes-wide-open manner than when you first started it. Don't feel put off or threatened by this book. It will be a bit of a hard slog for a general reader to perhaps get the most out of it, but it will be a worthwhile journey, even if you only understand and consume a fraction of the author's work!
Some of the chapter titles convey the type of material that awaits you: The Nutritionism Paradigm: Reductive Approaches to Nutrients, Food, and the Body; The Era of Quantifying Nutritionism: Protective Nutrients, Caloric Reductionism, and Vitamania; The Era of Good-and-Bad Nutritionism: Bad Nutrients and Nutricentric Dietary Guidelines and The Macronutrient Diet Wars: From the Low-Fat Campaign to Low-Calorie, Low-Carb, and Low-GI Diets.
The price tag of this book is a "steal" for a great academic work although it might be sadly out of reach of some general readers - that said at the time of writing this review (when the book has yet to be launched) at least one major online bookseller is offering this for sale with a 25% discount. So for less than the price of a family meal at a major fast food restaurant, you could genuinely get a hefty read that might change your entire approach to diets, nutrition and even food on a whole. It might be, without being hyperbole, one of your better investments this year if you are prepared to put in a bit of effort to digest the author's work.
What I don't like - insulting terms like "factory farming" used a couple of times. In full disclosure, I read my copy from NetGalley, but will be buying a copy also to refer to again. And again. And again.
There's a lot to like here. I appreciate the jam packed and overflowing scientific citations and information. I appreciate greatly an honest look at modern food writers many are infatuated with, but whom use science to show their own preferences. Only by looking at the truth can we effectively make food choices, and this book does a great job of bringing up many, many points to consider to do that. From the vacillating nutrition information on foods like eggs and margarine to the engineering of food with bits of nutrition that isn't natural, is more direct but doesn't catch the attention like the GMO issue does. It's accepted, somehow.
I like the in depth tracing of food issues not just in the last 10-20 or even 30 years, but history and science going back 100 years or more. Food companies, farmers and everyone in the food chain strive to give consumers what they want to eat, but that changes. It underscores what we at SlowMoneyFarm call common sense food.
I see it as an invaluable source not to condemn any food but to find the truth, the science and politics that generate our food choices, and truly push for *food choices*. For some that might be nutritionally added food and others it might be whole foods close to the source. Deciding, not fearing, food is a huge factor and this book does much. It's not a difficult read, but does require focus and paying attention because of the amount of information presented. Like a rich, wonderful food, a few bites and reflecting is good. Worth the read, worth the money.
Empower your food choices. Many say they want facts and science - here it is. Here's to food choices.
This book gives an interesting overview of the "science" of the health industry and I found some information that I hadn't known before - such as how margerine is produced and why it may not be healthier than butter. However, to be honest, while the details are new, the conclusions should be common sense: the closer to nature one eats, the better. It is a good wake up call for those who feel tossed from one fad diet to another and brings freedom to those that feel bound by a long list of food does and don'ts.