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Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History): Science and the Politics of Dietary Advice Hardcover – 9 Jul 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (9 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231156561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231156561
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 16.5 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 381,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Nutritionism is an important contribution to the discourse of the alternative food movement, providing a unique, scholarly rationale for the food-quality paradigm. Gyorgy Scrinis provides a new language for talking about how our ideas about what makes a good diet have come to be. --Charlotte Biltekoff, University of California, Davis

Scrinis details the ideology of 'nutritionism,' in which the great majority of dietary advice is reduced to statements about a few nutrients. The resulting cascade is nutrient-based dietary guidelines, nutrition labeling, food engineering, and food marketing. I agree with Scrinis that a broader focus on foods would lead to quite a different scientific and political cascade, including a more healthful diet for many people and a different relationship between the public and the food industry. --David Jacobs, Mayo Professor of Public Health, University of Minnesota

This book artfully brings together two fields. One is the huge body of scholarly and popular texts that provide nutritional advice, or tell us what to eat. Scrinis has combed through this literature in exhaustive detail to provide a magnificent synthesis. The other field is what I would call critical nutrition studies, referring to a growing literature that interrogates and historicizes nutritional advice. Scrinis critiques this on its own terms and then suggests other approaches to evaluating food. --Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitlalism

About the Author

Gyorgy Scrinis is a lecturer in food politics in the School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His research addresses the politics, sociology, and philosophy of food and of science and technology.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By I. Darren TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 5 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
Should you ever find yourself in the position of wanting to lose a little weight, you cannot help but be thoroughly confused by the sheer amount of seemingly conflicting information over what you should or shouldn't eat. Some ingredients and foods are good, now they are bad, oh, they are good again... really? What is one to do?

Taking a liberal quote from the very start of this book, you can easily get a taste (sic) of things to come: "Margarine has been the chameleon of manufactured food products, able to transform its nutritional appearance, adapt to changing nutritional fads and charm unwitting nutrition experts and nutrition-conscious consumers. While research published by nutrition scientists in the early 1990s on the harmfulness of the trans-fats in margarine temporarily unveiled its highly processed and degraded character, margarine has subsequently been reinvented as a trans-fat-free, cholesterol-lowering 'functional food.'"

So are we getting the wool pulled over our eyes by suave marketeers and big business? Possibly... Margarine was developed by a French chemist in the late nineteenth century and up until the 1960s, it was generally viewed as a cheap butter substitute, only used by those who couldn't afford the "real thing." Yet now butter is the big, bad nasty and margarine (a manufactured, chemically-reconstituted vegetable oil with various colouring agents and added vitamins) is the grand saviour. Really?

After reading through this book will you ever look at food, diets and so-called advice in the same light again?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Worthy investment 5 July 2013
By I. Darren - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Should you ever find yourself in the position of wanting to lose a little weight, you cannot help but be thoroughly confused by the sheer amount of seemingly conflicting information over what you should or shouldn't eat. Some ingredients and foods are good, now they are bad, oh, they are good again... really? What is one to do?

Taking a liberal quote from the very start of this book, you can easily get a taste (sic) of things to come: "Margarine has been the chameleon of manufactured food products, able to transform its nutritional appearance, adapt to changing nutritional fads and charm unwitting nutrition experts and nutrition-conscious consumers. While research published by nutrition scientists in the early 1990s on the harmfulness of the trans-fats in margarine temporarily unveiled its highly processed and degraded character, margarine has subsequently been reinvented as a trans-fat-free, cholesterol-lowering 'functional food.'"

So are we getting the wool pulled over our eyes by suave marketeers and big business? Possibly... Margarine was developed by a French chemist in the late nineteenth century and up until the 1960s, it was generally viewed as a cheap butter substitute, only used by those who couldn't afford the "real thing." Yet now butter is the big, bad nasty and margarine (a manufactured, chemically-reconstituted vegetable oil with various colouring agents and added vitamins) is the grand saviour. Really?

After reading through this book will you ever look at food, diets and so-called advice in the same light again? Naturally, the veracity (or not) of the information portrayed in this book is beyond the scope of this review, yet the author has presented some seemingly well-researched, clearly written opinions that make for a compelling, troubling and quite alarming read. As befits an academic book of this kind, there is a wealth of footnotes and bibliographic references so you can drill down to the source and interpret things for yourself should you so desire. Despite this being an academically-focussed book, the author manages to still make this an accessible read to the interested "generalist". You are not going to get a "this diet good, this diet bad" type of approach and you will need to interpret much yourself, but you will finish this book with a much broader, more eyes-wide-open manner than when you first started it. Don't feel put off or threatened by this book. It will be a bit of a hard slog for a general reader to perhaps get the most out of it, but it will be a worthwhile journey, even if you only understand and consume a fraction of the author's work!

Some of the chapter titles convey the type of material that awaits you: The Nutritionism Paradigm: Reductive Approaches to Nutrients, Food, and the Body; The Era of Quantifying Nutritionism: Protective Nutrients, Caloric Reductionism, and Vitamania; The Era of Good-and-Bad Nutritionism: Bad Nutrients and Nutricentric Dietary Guidelines and The Macronutrient Diet Wars: From the Low-Fat Campaign to Low-Calorie, Low-Carb, and Low-GI Diets.

The price tag of this book is a "steal" for a great academic work although it might be sadly out of reach of some general readers - that said at the time of writing this review (when the book has yet to be launched) at least one major online bookseller is offering this for sale with a 25% discount. So for less than the price of a family meal at a major fast food restaurant, you could genuinely get a hefty read that might change your entire approach to diets, nutrition and even food on a whole. It might be, without being hyperbole, one of your better investments this year if you are prepared to put in a bit of effort to digest the author's work.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If you eat, read this and make food choices 26 July 2013
By Janet K Hoadley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a book to watch while the kids are running through the house and the television is blaring. It's not an easy read but is an important one.

What I don't like - insulting terms like "factory farming" used a couple of times. In full disclosure, I read my copy from NetGalley, but will be buying a copy also to refer to again. And again. And again.

There's a lot to like here. I appreciate the jam packed and overflowing scientific citations and information. I appreciate greatly an honest look at modern food writers many are infatuated with, but whom use science to show their own preferences. Only by looking at the truth can we effectively make food choices, and this book does a great job of bringing up many, many points to consider to do that. From the vacillating nutrition information on foods like eggs and margarine to the engineering of food with bits of nutrition that isn't natural, is more direct but doesn't catch the attention like the GMO issue does. It's accepted, somehow.

I like the in depth tracing of food issues not just in the last 10-20 or even 30 years, but history and science going back 100 years or more. Food companies, farmers and everyone in the food chain strive to give consumers what they want to eat, but that changes. It underscores what we at SlowMoneyFarm call common sense food.

I see it as an invaluable source not to condemn any food but to find the truth, the science and politics that generate our food choices, and truly push for *food choices*. For some that might be nutritionally added food and others it might be whole foods close to the source. Deciding, not fearing, food is a huge factor and this book does much. It's not a difficult read, but does require focus and paying attention because of the amount of information presented. Like a rich, wonderful food, a few bites and reflecting is good. Worth the read, worth the money.

Empower your food choices. Many say they want facts and science - here it is. Here's to food choices.
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
You'll never look at the nutrition label of a food the same way again... 16 July 2013
By PAUL MCNEIL - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Eating well is hard. It's bad enough that we live in a world full of corn turned into liquid sugar and artificially processed fats, but even when we want to go healthy, which of our health nut friends do we listen to? The marathon runner who eats lots of meat and grains? The Atkins diet throwback (yo, it isn't 2004 anymore!)? The paleo diet evangelist? Or that nice family that's gone gluten-free?

Luckily, we can just turn to science, with decades of research under its belt, and see exactly what it is that will give us long healthy li--- oh, wait. All your food evangelist friends can cite how this or that food, or this or that nutrient, is the key to eternal life or the devil in edible form. The news seems to report every week on how certain foods have been linked with cancer, or how this berry is a superfood that will make up for it all. Then, food producers compound it all with bold health claims right on the front of the package- Omega-3s! Lycopene! Fat-free! It gets a bit confusing, to say the least.

Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice, by Gyorgy Scrinis is a primer on, and a response to, how we got into this mess. Scrinis, and the idea of nutritionism as the dominant paradigm in nutrition science, were popularized in Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Nutritionist reductionism, as Scrinis defines it, is the way nutrients have been studied in isolation, or in small groups, rather than as part of a whole diet, or of looking at the nutrients in context, or at the way they have made it into the food. This is the paradigm that provides us with countless studies saying that nutrient X will fight obesity, then next year that it may cause cancer, then later that it might fight cancer. It's the approach that allows us to sell cereal that is over 30% sugar, but has information on the 9 great vitamins it contains. It's why we look at a nutrition label, and tend to count food in terms of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats, as if two foods with similar nutritional profiles were truly interchangeable. Scrinis gives a detailed history of the last century of food science and dietary advice, from the age of the discovery of vitamins to the era of good and bad nutrition, to our era of functional nutritionism, where foods can be engineered with whatever nutrient is in vogue (think Omega-3 margarine). It is a history about the collision between scientists, governments, food producers, and us, the often-confused and often-manipulated consumers.

Most of the book looks at this history, and has a lot of criticism of modern dietary advice, from the countless diets and experts to the food pyramid and government. Current food writers are not spared- even Michael Pollan's writings on reductionism are shown to be somewhat reductionist. Scrinis is not saying that these experts are necessarily wrong, but rather showing the flaws in logic and the gaps in the research that should give us pause before jumping on the bandwagon. At the very least, he argues, the history of the egg, which has been heralded and demonized in different decades, and the trans-fat margarine debacle, should show us that nutrient-centric advice can blind us to the big picture. He advocates for an approach to food looking at its quality- with quality referring to the level of processing a food has undergone, so that fresh foods would be at the top, and foods like margarine and other highly processed foods at the bottom. As he admits, there is not much research looking at nutrition and health from this perspective, but he makes a strong case that it would be worth seeing what more (admittedly difficult) dietary-level studies would show, and what effects food processing quality has when looked at independently of how many carbohydrates, or fats, or vitamins something has.

Unlike Pollan and some other food writers, Scrinis avoids waxing poetic, and this book is densely packed with information. It is not a quick or an easy read, but it is one of the most important books on food and nutrition you can read, if no other reason than it gives you a way to contextualize all the nutritional info out there.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
stating the obvious is sometimes necessary 3 Oct. 2013
By sd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
I received a complimentary copy of this book from netgalley.com for an honest review.
This book gives an interesting overview of the "science" of the health industry and I found some information that I hadn't known before - such as how margerine is produced and why it may not be healthier than butter. However, to be honest, while the details are new, the conclusions should be common sense: the closer to nature one eats, the better. It is a good wake up call for those who feel tossed from one fad diet to another and brings freedom to those that feel bound by a long list of food does and don'ts.
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