The food world is abuzz with discussion about books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The United States of Arugula, but one book I haven't heard anything about until this morning is The Gospel of Food, by sociologist Barry Glassner, who also wrote The Culture of Fear, about fearmongering. He is a professor at the University of Southern California. I do not hold that against him.
I'm going to disclaim by saying that I have not read this book (although I intend to when I am able). I have only heard the author speak about it, but I think it's an important addition to the commentary and one that should be paid close attention to by people who are interested in the politics and sociology of food.
In an interview I listened to this morning on The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Mr. Glassner was interviewed in part about this book.
From what I gathered, this book is about the way people's perceptions about food are manipulated or distorted unintentionally, and also about the dangers of focusing too narrowly on one cause for problems related to food, for example putting all of the blame on the fast food industry or on high-fructose corn syrup for America's obesity, when there are in reality multiple factors that play into any given person's weight, including personal genetics, their social circle, stress levels, socio-economic factors, etc.
In the book he discusses:
- "Culinary correctness," i.e., assigning moral values to certain kinds of food so that foods become inherently "good" and "bad" when individual qualities that food has become emphasized. This leads to much conflicting information and confusion when it comes to choosing what to eat.
- "Safe treyf," i.e., a notion he takes from Jewish culture. The term originally refers to New York Jews eating chinese food even though it wasn't really kosher. His example of safe treyf is people justifying their choices of what to eat based on illusory health benefits, such as taking the skin off of their fried chicken or eating a chocolate covered bar labeled "nutrition bar" instead of a candy bar.
- Marketing tactics of the food industry
- The relationship between chefs and restaurant reviewers (which is particularly based around the Southern California restaurant scene, from what I gather, and features cameos by Wolfgang Puck, Suzanne Goin, Jonathan Gold, Patrick Kuh, Leslie Brenner and S. Irene Virbila)
- Restaurant "elitists" at both ends of the spectrum from food snobs at the New York Times who only praise the highest of high-end restaurants to food snobs at Chowhound who only want to eat at the obscurest of holes-in-the-wall
- A defense of McDonald's; and
- An exploration of weight and obesity in America
In the meantime, I am adding this to my unfortunately long "To Read" list and if it comes to the top of my list in the next century or so, I'll follow up with thoughts after reading it.