LIVE TO EAT: Is our food culture killing us?

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A long, provocative book review. Accompany with Tawny Port and Stilton, if ya got ’em.

The Ethics of Eating, by Susan Pedersen (The Nation)

 … We think of how we eat within a framework of choice, but as Bee Wilson tells us in her new book, The Way We Eat Now, that is ridiculous. We “choose” within a contained food environment, one shaped by availability and advertising, prices and profits, traditions and trends. How we eat has less to do with conviction and still less to do with virtue than with habits and traditions, environment and especially economics—that is, with the complex social order within which we live. New York, for example, seems to offer almost limitless “choice,” but its cornucopia and variety (its Michelin-starred restaurants and gourmet food trucks, its farmers markets and specialty stores) coexists with rampant inequality and ill health. New York might seem a foodie’s heaven, but one-fifth of its residents live below the poverty line and an additional 25 percent in what the city calls “near poverty,” and homelessness has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2016, 1.2 million New Yorkers were “food insecure.” Today almost 1 million are living with Type 2 diabetes. Commendably activist though the city’s government is, battling those statistics with a host of neighborhood- and school-based health and nutrition programs, New York nevertheless captures perfectly the polarization and paradoxes of “the way we eat now.” And this is why I fell so hungrily on Wilson’s book—devouring it, really—in a quest to understand a global food culture that, frankly, is killing us.

Wilson doesn’t mince words about the magnitude of the problem. We think of food crises in terms of famine or scarcity, and while those can still strike hard, we also face a different kind of challenge today. For the first time, more people (1 billion) are overweight or obese worldwide than are underfed (about 800 million). Today, more people die from diet-related diseases than from the effects of tobacco use. To explain how a prosperous world could defeat hunger, only to fall victim to toxic diets, Wilson turns to nutrition scientist Barry Popkin’s account of the stages through which human diet has evolved …

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