Yesterday, taking a self-imposed break from the power of this UAE (ultimately alien environment), I lounged in The Big Room and read and wrote until mid-afternoon. The ceiling fans clicked in rotation, roosters crowed, Peepul the dog yapped, and an array of insects buzzed and hummed.
The book I plunged into, and it is a tough act for any author TFO (to follow Orwell), was Harvey Levenstein’s mistitled: “Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat.” It’s mistitled, let’s be generous and fault the publisher, because while HL (Harvey Levenstein) certainly notes food scares, he also addresses food nostrums, like vitamins, yoghurt being healthy, etc.
More important than the inaccurate title: The book lacks synthesis. The author, an historian, assembles numerous facts, as one might for an academic thesis, but sees no scientific, psychological, philosophical, or social explanations for his able compendium or cascade of facts.
Further, HL talks down. He informs us that Pasteur was a scientist, that Moscow is in Russia, and that milk is difficult for babies to digest. He notes the Jewish background of every single person in his numerous stories while frequently omitting the religions of other protagonists, which proves to be a distraction.
Then there are his immodest debunkings of what he deems medical nonsense: Too much salt in the diet? Why, according to HL, that’s only deleterious to a minority. Gee, I dunno, is 29% of the general population with hypertension a minority? Or: Are the 55% (women) and 51% (men) with high blood pressure (HBP) stats that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is coming up with in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies?
The book is pretty much what one done would expect from an historian who lacks broader–scientific, medical, psychological–contexts for interpreting data. The best thing about it is that assembly of facts. Lots of it was news to me.
But fear of food? That’s not the story.