A wide-ranging look at how food today is killing us through its abundance.
British food historian Wilson (First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, 2015, etc.), who writes a monthly column on food for the Wall Street Journal and has been named BBC Radio’s food writer of the year, avers that diets are getting worse across most of the world. “We snack more, we eat out more, and yet we often enjoy food less,” she writes. In her view, we are in the fourth stage of diet transitions, following the low-fat one of prehistoric hunter-gatherers to the cereal-rich one of the agricultural revolution to the third healthier, more varied one that followed. In stage four, diets are getting sweeter, fatter, and meatier—and not just in the rich countries. The author has talked to researchers, economists, and other experts, gathering data from around the world. Happily, she presents the data in an appealing, informal, almost chatty fashion. If readers want to know more about, say, the decline in cooking oil prices in China or the rising cost of green vegetables relative to ice cream in the U.K., a few charts provide this information. More interesting is Wilson’s discussion of trendy foods, where she exposes frauds and fads; she gives close attention to such foods as quinoa, yogurt, skyr, kale, pomegranate juice, and coconut water. The author also explores the dilemma of eating out versus cooking at home and examines the rise in popularity of meal kits, which provide customers with all the ingredients and instructions for making a home-cooked meal. She optimistically predicts that we may be entering another dietary transition to healthier foods, and she offers tips for enjoying our food while waiting for this new food culture to emerge. Though Wilson offers an enjoyable reading experience, her failure to consider potential future food shortages as climate change reduces arable land and the population grows makes some of her predictions questionable. Though not a complete picture, this book is an entertaining choice for naturalists, foodies, and health-conscious readers.