Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat by Harvey Levenstein, eBook Download 022605490X

April 15, 2018

Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat

There may be no greater source of anxiety for Americans today than the question of what to eat and drink. Are eggs the perfect protein, or are they cholesterol bombs?  Is red wine good for my heart or bad for my liver? Will pesticides, additives, and processed foods kill me?  Here with some very rare and very welcome advice is food historian Harvey Levenstein: Stop worrying!
In Fear of Food Levenstein reveals the people and interests who have created and exploited these worries, causing an extraordinary number of Americans to allow fear to trump pleasure in dictating their food choices. He tells of the prominent scientists who first warned about deadly germs and poisons in foods, and their successors who charged that processing foods robs them of life-giving vitamins and minerals. These include Nobel Prize–winner Eli Metchnikoff, who advised that yogurt would enable people to live to be 140 by killing the life-threatening germs in their intestines, and Elmer McCollum, the “discoverer” of vitamins, who tailored his warnings about vitamin deficiencies to suit the food producers who funded him. Levenstein also highlights how large food companies have taken advantage of these concerns by marketing their products to combat the fear of the moment. Such examples include the co-opting of the “natural foods” movement, which grew out of the belief that inhabitants of a remote Himalayan Shangri-la enjoyed remarkable health and longevity by avoiding the very kinds of processed food these corporations produced, and the physiologist Ancel Keys, originator of the Mediterranean Diet, who provided the basis for a powerful coalition of scientists, doctors, food producers, and others to convince Americans that high-fat foods were deadly.
In Fear of Food, Levenstein offers a much-needed voice of reason; he expertly questions these stories of constantly changing advice to reveal that there are no hard-and-fast facts when it comes to eating. With this book, he hopes to free us from the fears that cloud so many of our food choices and allow us to finally rediscover the joys of eating something just because it tastes good.


“With wit, charm, accessibility, and impeccable scholarship (a powerful and unusual quartet), Harvey Levenstein chronicles the long history of Americans’ food fears, tracing their origins, exposing and debunking the self-serving hucksters who promoted them, and, finally, offering his own ‘cure’:  healthy skepticism. It’s a riveting record of claims and counter-claims, greed and venality, that will keep you reading and, finally, reassessing your own diet.” (Susan R. Friedland, author of Ribs , Caviar , and The Passover Table)“In Fear of Food Harvey Levenstein explores one of the striking anomalies of American culture—its love/hate relationship with eating and the particularly perplexing choices that humans have to make about the food they eat because they can eat everything. The history of eating in America is thus the story of countless fads and special diets, designed to discipline the will rather than provide pleasure. Levenstein’s take on this peculiar history is at once witty, sardonic, and quite serious, even profound.” (James Gilbert, University of Maryland)“Harvey Levenstein’s entertaining social history of American food scares places today’s worries in a broader historical context, from the ‘germophobia’ of the 19th century to concerns about cholesterol and chemical residues in the 21st. Read this book and you’ll understand why warnings about the safety of your food should always be taken with a pinch of salt. (Just a pinch, though — too much could be bad for you.).” (Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in Six Glasses)“Harvey Levenstein, professor emeritus of history at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, documents the reasons behind such overblown anxiety as ‘vitamania’ in this fascinating and entertaining book. Why has fear superseded pleasure in dictating food choices? Levenstein traces the junk science, vested interests, misleading advertising, governmental ineptitude, constantly changing advice, media hype, venal food corporations and more to provide the answers, and a shameful history it is.” (National (UAE))“Picking warily at its plate, America remains baffled not only by contradictory nutritional headlines but, says Levenstein, by new personalized-medicine prods to mind one’s intolerances to lactose, glucose, gluten, what have you. He’s meanwhile given up his last vitamin supplement, E, after studies suggested it may increase the chance of prostate cancer, and shamelessly relishes the memory of a lamb sandwich Julia Child once fed him—with mayonnaise.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)“A welcome reminder that even before everyone had a food blog, there was a heck of a lot of conflicting information out there about what to eat and why.” (Zocalo Public Square)“Harvey Levenstein guides us through an entertaining series of obsessions—from the outsized fear of flies spreading germs (leading to the 1905 invention of the fly swatter) to a panic about germ-ridden cats infecting human food (which led to a 1912 Chicago public health warning that felines were ‘extremely dangerous to humanity’). . . . Levenstein’s roster of American food nuttiness is entertaining and enlightening.” (Boston Globe)”When it comes to food, there are two large categories of eaters: those who do not worry about what they eat but should, and those who do worry about what they eat but should not. In Fear of Food,Harvey Levenstein focuses on the latter group, taking readers through a succession of American fads and panics, from an epidemic of ‘germophobia’ at the start of the twentieth century to fat phobia at its end. He exposes the instigators of these panics: not only the hucksters and opportunists but also the scientists and health experts.” (Times Literary Supplement)“With an authoritative and precise writing style, the sections of Fear of Food repeatedly reveal the insane marketing and production of the American food industry, and the irresponsibility in government control and (lack of) involvement that allows the manipulative industry to flourish.  Throughout the thoroughly researched book, Levenstein provides the history of germs, milk, the beef industry, vitamania, organic food, processed food, and fats to show the growth of a national eating disorder, and the media’s role in propagating a culture of fear surrounding food. . . . We are a nation so easily swept into fads, and Levenstein warns that we had better get a hold of ourselves, take control of our diet and our lives before it’s too late.  Fear of Food will give you just the push to do so.” (Coffin Factory)“Fear of Food offers a history of food scares in the US from the end of the 19th century up to the present day, beginning with (legitimate) concerns about the purity of milk in cities in the 1890s and ending with repeated outbreaks of E. coli resulting from intensive farming and butchery today. . . . Harvey Levenstein has fun and the book is entertaining.” (Times Higher Education)

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About the Author

Harvey Levenstein is professor emeritus of history at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He has published a number of books on American history, including Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet and Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America.

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My girlfriend recommended this book while reading another book. I’m a nutrition major at UC Davis and take the subject seriously, despite the stigma it has placed on eating and health, especially in developed countries. I haven’t finished the book, but I’m well into it and love it. The book starts off with a brief intro about WHAT we fear about food and WHY. this resonated with me because I hold a rather cynical view of nutrition, indeed science, especially after serving in the Army. At a major research institution, I’ve realized that scientific research, while advancing our knowledge and generally benefitting the WORLD, is also done so with profits in mind. The point of research is to bid for grants and contracts to “prove” this theory or that hypothesis in hopes that it will satisfy one’s own ambitions. Unfortunately, and despite our current knowledge, we still have MUCH to learn regarding food and it’s role in our diets and health. TO THE BOOK: Levenstein starts off with a tour of the Germ Theory, which set the stage for public paranoia regarding food safety, which then spurred research into vitamins and minerals and other key nutrients, which led to our understanding of the function of food. The story goes on, with a witty yet serious tone regarding how we see food and the grip nutrition has on our minds (and tummies). I recommend this book for those seeking to understand the complexities of food anxiety and current and former research in nutrition. Other readings I suggest are “Eating Right In America” (by a UCDAVIS professor!), “Fat: An Anthology”, and “The Great Cholesterol Con”, also “Fat Chance”. Enjoy the book, and rethinking what we “know”. Food is so many things, but fuel for anxiety it SHOULD NOT BE. Just keep in mind we’re fortunate to have organic, local, natural, yadda yadda, when people in our own country go without every day. this should help shift the focus from blaming others for their “poor choices” and prevent the creation of the “unhealthy other”. Was that too many quotes??
I found this a very well researched study of food fads. The author doesn’t give his own opinion, he just gives you the history and you can make your own conclusions. Anyone interested in how food choices are manipulated by just about every interested group should read this. In the epilogue the author gives us his views of what he learnt from his reseach. This is one of the most worthwhile parts of the book, and amounts to: “Eat what you want, but in moderation”. Good advice!
I would normally wait until I finished the book to write a review, but in just 3 chapters I have learned more about why we as Americans are all pill poppin’ bores to eat dinner than the thousands of articles, and hundreds of books I have read on the subject of nutrition.

  • Title: Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat
  • Autor: Harvey Levenstein
  • Publisher (Publication Date): University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (April 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226473740 | 022605490X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226473741 | 978-0226054902
  • Download File Format: EPUB, PDF

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