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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Steven Poole thinks we are all too hung up on what we eat.
Truth-be-told he's somewhat obsessed about it. When he's
not calling upon the likes of Jacques Derrida and Roland
Barthes (how very quaint!) to support his clumsily wrought
narrative he's being more than a little rude about some of
the World's foremost chefs, describing, for example, the great
Paul Bocuse as a "pioneering gastroporn artiste", which in my
books is nothing short of unforgivable. (Although he does seem
to have a bit of an unhealthy preoccupation with Delia Smith!)
He's not beyond dining Chez Heston when the mood takes him,
however. Definitely a case of biting the hands that fed him.

The main problem is that Mr Poole's targets are far fewer in
number than he clearly believes them to be. His notion of
hoards of "foodists" (foodies no-longer) worshiping at the high
altars of gastronomy as a way of life is, in reality, restricted
largely to those who can afford to do so. The majority of us go
about our lives doing the best we can with the odd tasty treat
(and one man's treat may be another man's poison and so what!)
here and there when we can afford it. We are free to some degree to
choose what we eat but only within the limits placed on us by income,
access, culture and habit. Mr Poole's tone is never less than
condescending. It might be apposite to quote Jean Cocteau but for
those of us who may not speak French the absence of a translation
to elucidate the point he is making is a bold-faced impertinence.

A snide, mealy-mouthed and extremely patronising little book.

At Your Own Risk.
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on 3 October 2012
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 paeans..to 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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on 18 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 where the publisher mentions all the guff absent from the retail edition such as orchestrating media 'debate', working Twitter, and, oh but oh, making sure it comes out for 'Super Sunday' or whatever. Whilst I know the publisher is NOT the author, and just wants a return on their investment, I thought this sat poorly with the stance of the author with regard to media attitudes and their attendant hype. That said, please believe me that this is not why I have only rated this book at 3 stars.

Ratings are fairly meaningless obviously, especially when I refuse to give 5 stars to any artistic or literary creation, as this suggests they are perfect, which is patently a nonsense. So, 3 pretty much sums up this book. You will be pleased you have read it, but it will not change your life. There is likely not one jot in here that you don't know, or, you need to know. You will probably not feel enlightened; you will know that 'Heston' bears little relevence to mainstream cooking or even life in general, although you might have been thinking that the arrogant and unlikeable Jay Rayner is something other than the subversive satirist the author believes him to be; the level and frequency of patronage given suggests to me an undisclosed freindship or business relationship of some kind, I reluctantly have to conclude.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With all the celebrity chefs on TV and the enormous cookery books being endorsed by these chefs or programs on TV, it was only a matter of time before someone was going to write a book about the food craze. In his humorous way, Steven Poole writes some good parts, but others seem long winded and made me want to skip pages. At times I felt I could not be bothered reading it and put it down, only to pick it up again at a later date to read the next part. It seems that I am one of the odd ones out as I am not raving about the brilliant book, I thought it was average.
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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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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". I look forward to all that - there's nothing like a good old ding-dong to lighten the festive season !

OK, enough of that, it's just another author earning his living in a hard world, and good for him. What's more, everything Poole says is right, that is if you can understand everything he says; words like "spliff", "bong" (not in the bell context, that is) "explicator", "ingluviosity", "louring", "Gaian eucharist", "hermeneutic", litter the text, on top of which his general style is not always any-too brain-friendly either. But I forgive this naive eagerness to display erudition, and even forgive his made-up words like "Bibliophagy", because he made me laugh, which is a pearl beyond price in the literary world. This books pokes fun, and very successfully, and only those in the firing line are likely to condemn it. For the rest of us it's just a hoot; I never even knew about the more ludicrous excesses he describes, and cringe for those who participate.

I originally deducted one star for the aforementioned naive overdisplay of erudition, but I've restored it - but only because other Vine reviewers appear to have taken an overly narrow view. One reviewer even suggests that Poole is attacking all who, like himself, simply enjoy cookery, and, worse still, appears to read it as a personal attack on himself ! He surely can't be serious; but if he is, it doesn't sit well with one who aspires to the status of top 100 reviewer... I've been a "Hobby-cook" for 33 years, with a huge culinary library, and found much I could identify with, and nothing to offend - apart from the literary style, that is (but do remember that literary style is a matter of taste, as with every other art); and please don't be misled into thinking that the silly words appear on every page, or even every other page; they irritate when you come across them, but they don't otherwise necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the book - which other reviews might persuade you to think is so.

The book performs an entertaining, expert and well-researched demolition job on the more frivolous and cretinous aspects of what should be a serious and expertly-managed factor of our lives; anybody who reads it with a serious mind and is thereby forced into careful thought may well feel embarrassed enough hastily to banish any hint of this kind of foodism from their lives forever. Of course, if everybody did so, it would be a very bad thing indeed, since there would be another financial crisis with many more unemployed...

Great fun; polemics do tend to offend those whose obsessions are attacked; that's part of the general idea. Perhaps, as the publishers hoped, the debate is already inflamed !
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Steven Poole's new book "You Aren't What You Eat: Fed Up With Gastroculture" is a full-on but also partly tongue-in-cheek polemic against the rising tide of what he terms 'foodism' -- the elevation of the preparation and consumption of food to the status of an all-important and all-consuming (and is there a delicious almost foodist irony there?) requirement for the living of a proper and fulfilling life. Or, as Poole himself mostly prefers to put it, the current tendency of the western world towards "eating itself stupid".

The author is clearly well educated and widely read; this book is almost scholarly both in its detail and depth of research (reinforced with lengthy bibliography and references section). His writing is erudite -- somewhat overly so, in fact; the text is peppered with the kinds of long words rarely found in books on food, such as synechdote, hermeneutics, vatic, desuetude, supererogatory, directional adiposity and, one of my particular favourites, hedonistic crapulosity. Over the course of the book's 170-odd pages, the author presents a detailed and wide-ranging survey of the many and varied facets that foodism presents to the world. The clear-sighted demolition of snobbery and pretentious delusions (mostly perpetrated, one suspects, in the pursuit of profits more than of anything else) will undoubtedly win many readers over to the author's arguments and opinions, rooted as they often are in good old-fashioned common sense. Sometimes, though, the book feels to deliberately over-egg its case in the quest for laughs at the expense of others, with 14 chapters successively: sneering at the elevation of the pursuit of physical sustenance to the status of the spiritual; pouring scorn on the pretensions now almost ubiquitous in the descriptions of offerings in restaurant menus; attacking the rise of gastroporn and the fashionistas' organoleptic neurogastronomy (to say nothing of the modern fad of serving food on blocks, slabs, slates, stones or indeed anything other than a plate); berating the futility of attempting to experience the past through the reconstruction of "heritage" and "heirloom" dishes; attacking the modern foodists' often sexist snobbery not just over "fast foods" and "convenience" ingredients but indeed over any repasts which have not required the sustained and untiring labours of (preferably female) hands over many hours (the "fetishization of pointless labour") as well as the class conscious pretensions to authenticity of "nostagie de la boue" -- food snobbery put through so many layers of inversion it's all but impossible to keep track of (as well as entirely impossible to afford. Or, indeed, to eat.) The author also questions the value of choosing organic produce over other kinds, of seeking out local sources of ingredients, and of eschewing genetically modified food stuffs, in the name of "healthier eating" or of "saving the planet", dismissing it all as a "tree-hugging, hippy fixation". He mocks eating-as-escapism or reversion to childhood, and gawps incredulously at the success of the entertainment media's all-enveloping virtual foodist fare of today's ubiquitous competitive or celebrity cooking programmes and food theatre presentations, where audiences can pay large amounts to watch the act of cooking but never actually get to share in the experience of eating anything.

Indeed, so wide-ranging is the author's rampage through the modern food production and consumption faddism, that almost every reader with any interest in gastronomy at all (and I don't see why anyone without such an interest would pick this book up in the first place) will at some point or other hold up their hand and declare the author to have taken a step too far in his invective. For me, this is Poole's casual dismissal of green concerns in food production and distribution, and his ludicrous interpretation of "planet-friendly" as indicating a desire to be on friendly terms with a lump of rock (rather than as a convenient short-hand for the aim of ensuring that the particular lump of rock upon which the human race finds itself remains habitable and able to sustain the production of the materials that an ever-increasing human population needs in order to live and thrive). He similarly oversimplifies "locavorism" (the eating of only locally grown produce) and its more extreme manifestation of foraging, declaring in a neat syllogistic sleight of hand that because such luxury cannot be universally applied and can, in fact, have the exact opposite effect to that desired if followed rigorously and without thought, aiming to source as much of one's food as possible locally is both undesirable and ultimately to be dismissed as decadent individualism. (In my view, he would have done better instead to recommend a reading of Mike Berners Lee's "How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything".) His dismissal of objections to GM foodstuffs (actually more commonly objections to the abhorrently immoral attitudes of the multinational GM crop producers and their attempts to apply monopolistic strangleholds on food production, rather than the foodstuffs themselves) is equally glib and distorting of the true picture.

Steven Poole is, of course, right when he hints that many modern "foodie" trends are nothing more than fads and fussiness fuelled by trends in fashion and the belief that crass indulgence in whims has become not only morally acceptable but indeed goes to the very core of being. Today's foodists are clearly overstepping the mark when they perpetually seek spiritual experience in something that should provide a more practical almost prosaic fulfilment. Unfortunately, once an activity has been so elevated, it has, by definition, transcended the sphere of the purely practical and its proponents are lost to arguments based on rationality, rendering utterings such as Poole's not merely irrelevant or unenlightened but also heretical in their ears. All foodism is ultimately about doing what we want simply because we want (or want to appear superior and thus have constantly to redefine what that looks like) and post-rationalising supporting arguments for our choices later. To take such post-rationalisations seriously is to aggrandise the trivial and debase the important ethical and social choices that confront us these days. And while we can all agree that there is nothing wrong with appreciating good food, it should matter less what we put in our bellies and more what we put in our minds, making Steven Poole's underlying message in this book fundamentally more important than he even he ever claims for it. Ultimately, though, his lack of any suggested alternatives or counters to the excesses of faddiness that he chronicles left me very much with a sense of emptiness, by the end, with but a single thought on my mind: right then, what is there to eat?
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on 17 June 2013
A refreshing and highly amusing look at foodism and the various cults and fallacies of gastroporn. Well written and great fun, but also enlightening.
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on 5 January 2013
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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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A wonderfully entertaining diatribe with fully-referenced sources for all the examples of the ridiculous in food fashion which have plagued us since - well, since written records begin, it seems, since the Romans could have given our current gastrobores a start and a beating in the use of unlikely and even repellent ingredients. Past and present fads and false gods are described in all their absurdity; with such entries as "Adrià, Ferran: insertion of bicycle pump into tomato by"; "Blumenthal, Heston: weird mince pies of"; "Oliver, Jamie: relentless use of 'proper' by"; and "Pollan, Michael: hobnobbing with misanthropic pastoralists of" they are not safe even in the index. Marco Pierre White is, however, allowed to have the last word. "At the end of the day it's just food, isn't it? Just food."
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