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You Aren't What You Eat: Fed Up with Gastroculture [Hardcover]

Steven Poole
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Oct 2012

We have become obsessed by food: where it comes from, where to buy it, how to cook it and – most absurdly of all – how to eat it. Our televisions and newspapers are filled with celebrity chefs, latter-day priests whose authority and ambition range from the small scale (what we should have for supper) to large-scale public schemes designed to improve our communal eating habits. When did the basic human imperative to feed ourselves mutate into such a multitude of anxieties about provenance, ethics, health, lifestyle and class status? And since when did the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson gain the power to transform our kitchens and dining tables into places where we expect to be spiritually sustained? In this subtle and erudite polemic, Steven Poole argues that we're trying to fill more than just our bellies when we pick up our knives and forks, and that we might be a lot happier if we realised that sometimes we should throw away the colour supplements and open a tin of beans.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Union Books (18 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908526114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908526113
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 448,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Poole is the author of Unspeak, Trigger Happy, and You Aren't What You Eat. He was born in London, and writes for various publications including the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement, and Edge. More information at

Product Description


‘The more this book on gastronomy lays into its practitioners, the better it gets. He is brilliantly and consistently and winningly funny.’

(Jonathan Meades Observer)

‘Steven Poole puts the eating disorders of gastroculture through the food processor of his wit and chops it into meaty little bits.’

(Saga Magazine)

‘Fearless new book takes a blowtorch to our modern obsession with the once-simple business of cooking and eating food’

(Reader's Digest)

'Poole is very entertaining as he mocks all manifestations of foodism, from obscure ingredient-raves to gastroporn and the chefs who take it all too seriously — in Poole’s phrase, “bunny-broilers getting a Christ complex.'

(Alex Renton Evening Standard)

'An overdue and well-directed acid-tipped dart at the modern obsession with food.'

(The Herald (Glasgow))

'Stephen Poole's You Aren't What You Eat rips into all aspects of foodie culture gleefully, eruditely and, as far as I can see, irrefutably. If there's any justice, it should put an immediate end to all those incomprehensible menus, absurd claims about the 'art' of cooking, and to chips inexplicably served in beakers.'

(James Walton Spectator)

 ’A feisty and inflammatory little book, and well worth thinking about in the event that your gift-giving ritual lacks either of those qualities.’

(Zoe Williams Guardian, Best Food Books of 2012)

‘His eye for the absurd and the hypocritical is sharper than a flashing Sabatier. Making mincemeat of celebrity chefs and food historians, Poole’s pungent satire becomes more serious when he takes on the political implications of organic food or ready meals. To steal a line from Masterchef, writing about cooking doesn’t get tougher, or funnier, than this.’

(Victoria Segal Guardian - Paperback Review)

‘Scathingly funny and well-researched attack on ‘foodism’. As a polemicist, he’s highly readable and isn’t scared to slaughter holy cows. As well as tearing into the soft underbelly of contemporary food culture he provides belly laughs aplenty.’

(Guy Dimond Time Out)

About the Author

STEVEN POOLE is the author of Trigger Happy (2000) and Unspeak (2006), a book about contemporary political language. He writes about books, music and other cultural matters for the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement and has appeared at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Bath and Edinburgh Literary Festivals, the Rotterdam Film Festival and GameHotel, as well as on BBC television, BBC radio, NPR and ABC radio. He lives in London.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An overwrought polemic 3 Oct 2012
By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I love food and restaurants but also have a low tolerance for certain types of foodie proselytisers, therefore I was interested in what Stephen Poole had to say on the subject.

"You aren't what you Eat" starts and ends amusingly with a description of a 'food rave' and MasterChef Live convention respectively. He eavesdrops on a vacuous foodie hipster, encounters Chocolate Wine ('red wine adulterated with chocolate by a maniac'), and ponders the madness and excess of it all. In between these vignettes Poole aims his invective at a wide array of targets including Gillian McKeith, convoluted menus, organic food, locavorism, and the concept of food as art. Too often though I felt that Poole was either preaching to the converted (e.g. in his attacks on Gillian McKeith) or battling against straw men (most people live their lives not really affected by Heston Blumenthal et al., or not to the extent warranted by Poole's railing).

Poole's overblown writing style (e.g. 'Foodists write countless the virtue attendant upon a ventripotent blowout of heroically extended gastrimargy.') quickly became irritating and stuck in the craw when combined with withering attacks on pretentious food writing (Nigel Slater's "Toast", for example, is 'an over-buttered crumpet of a memoir'). The constant sarcasm can be wearying, such as when Jamie Oliver's books are variously described as 'book-shaped products', 'the literary incarnation of the multimedia product family', and 'in codex form'. At one point Poole even mentions, off-hand, the Aristotelian concepts of 'poesis' and 'techne'.

When Poole hits the right targets and tones down his language, he is thoughtful and funny. But too often I found myself picking holes in this overwrought polemic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 26 Feb 2014
By Tessa66
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was a breath of fresh air, I am guilty of a lot of the foodist behaviour Poole describes and I loved it, genuinely thought provoking.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Author Stephen Poole uses the epithet "foodist" - clearly designed to parallel "fascist", "racist" etc. - to describe people like me who are rather into their cooking. Well, thanks mate.

Now I'm not actually a fan of celebrity chef culture either, or the pretentious talk surrounding food. But you do feel that Poole, when, for example, attacking those who prefer organic food and who try to reduce food miles, would much prefer to see the environment totally destroyed than continue to see smug self-satisfied grins on the faces of the whole Earth and locally sourced food brigade.

Rather than Angry Young Man, Poole comes across more like Grumpy Old Man. Rather than getting so overly hung-up either way, we should perhaps just take the simple words of advice from Michael Pollan, whom Poole even quotes in this book: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is a polemic directed at the growing idolatrous obsession with food which now pervades our society. The averagely intelligent person easily recognises this as merely yet another of the money-driven fads which keep the wheels of commerce turning, the engine fuelled by the multitudes to whom fashion, novelty and one-upness is everything - whilst the more perceptive, profit-savvy folks see a bandwaggon, climb on it, whip up speed, and retire rich...

The bandwaggon is driven by more than celebrity cooks, of course; TV companies see new ways of garnering audience numbers, publishers sell more books, manufacturers design and sell ever more esoteric kitchen hardware, advertising companies generate more consultancy fees, exhibition organisers organise more exhibitions, travel companies sell food holidays, hosts of nutritionist quacks and alternative therapists cling onto the waggon sides, like passengers on Indian trains, and supermarkets and food manufacturers lumber along behind on their own heavyweight bandwaggon; and finally, when absurdity reaches its peak, along come the polemicists to exploit their own new money-making niche; enter Steven Poole (who isn't the first in the field, by the way).

This becomes only too clear when you read the publisher's blurb accompanying my (free) early proof copy, obviously directed at other would-be fellow bandwaggoners, rather than potential readers - it includes promises of "pitting Poole against food writers and celebrity chefs in the national press", and "targeting gastro-bloggers and tweeters to inflame the debate". We are also told that the book will be published on "Super Thursday" (which is publisher-speak, meaning "for Christmas") in order to "compete with Christmas cookery best-sellers, such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson".
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise and Funny 5 Jan 2013
By Mike
I thought this book was a delight, and a very timely one. I can't agree with the reviewer who found it circumlocutory. Yes, it's full of literary and philosophical allusions, but I always understood their relevance to the argument, even when I was unfamiliar with the sources that were being quoted. And the style does not make it a slow read. In fact, I tore through it. It reminded me of Jon Ronson's writing, in terms of its addictive readability, and its wit. It is extremely funny. Poole takes slogans such as "I like organic because it feels right for my family" and deconstructs them hilariously. (If you've seen Stewart Lee's routine about "Give it to me straight, like a cider made from 100% pear", this is a similar kind of thing, but taken to the next level.) But though this book savagely demolishes the idiotic and sinister aspects of foodie culture, it is clear, reading between the lines, that the author has a deep love of cooking.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm not what I eat.
I'm going to go and have an explosion of baby scallops resting on a bed of lambs lettuce instead of reviewing this book.
Published 9 months ago by Joe
5.0 out of 5 stars Show a different time
This book shows the way thing are in England and the way people think of food culture and the other side of the story. Great book
Published 10 months ago by Ashley Boyd
5.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable.
A refreshing and highly amusing look at foodism and the various cults and fallacies of gastroporn. Well written and great fun, but also enlightening.
Published 15 months ago by Mr Brian McCarthy
2.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Polemic
This is a book with a tin on the cover that does exactly what is says on the tin. It excoriates all febrile and trendy obsession with food. And that's it. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mike Dixon
2.0 out of 5 stars Biting The Hands That Feed Him
Steven Poole thinks we are all too hung up on what we eat.
Truth-be-told he's somewhat obsessed about it. Read more
Published 16 months ago by The Wolf
4.0 out of 5 stars Razor-sharp assault on food as fetish
This very funny polemic is a godsend to anyone who groans inwardly (or outwardly - admit it!) at the ever-presence of Heston Blumenthal and the thuggish presenters of Masterchef on... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Madmoose
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a Read
This book is a critique of the trend to worship celebrity chefs, and to be a snobbish foodie. As such it is entertaining. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Bob from Beds
4.0 out of 5 stars Confirmed my prejudices !
I enjoyed this a lot - probably because to a large extent it simply confirmed my own prejudices. It an easy read and good fun and I found my self nodding in agreement.
Published 20 months ago by Alex Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars makes you think
Bought this for my son for his birthday after reading a review about it in the Readers' Digest. When he saw the title he wasn't too sure. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mrs. R. A. Mallia
3.0 out of 5 stars Locally sourced, free range, ethical doner kebab
One of the benefits of a late review is that you can see if anyone else has noticed the same things as you; and I also noticed the blurb on my very much 'promo' copy of this book... Read more
Published 21 months ago by DJ Bez
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