The Gospel of Food

I’ve been meaning to read Barry Glassner’s The Gospel of Food since it came out a few months ago, because seeing the same mind that wrote The Culture of Fear* take on the food police promises to be an utterly delightful reading experience. Not sure why I haven’t gotten to it yet, except for the stack of 8 gazillion other unread books in my apartment.

Now that I’ve read Jacob Sullum’s review of it, I’m bumping it up on the list.

Glassner is not oblivious to health concerns, but he points out when they are exaggerated or mistaken (as you would expect from the author of The Culture of Fear, a 1999 book that debunked such bugaboos as road rage, Internet addiction, and school violence). He correctly notes that the science linking eating to health is fuzzier than know-it-alls such as Brody and Jacobson like to admit, especially when it comes to “debatable claims about the lethality of fatness.” He reviews the U.S. government’s embarrassing retreat from the assertion that weighing too much kills hundreds of thousands of Americans each year and presses Walter Willett, a widely quoted Harvard nutritionist, for evidence to back up his claim that extra pounds cause heart disease. “As near as I can tell,” Glassner writes after reviewing the relevant literature, “not a single published study demonstrates that heart disease among the overweight and moderately obese results from their heft rather than from other factors that contribute to both obesity and heart disease.” He is similarly skeptical of conventional explanations for rising weight trends in the U.S., noting that “the explosion of the fast-food industry predated the upsurge in obesity.”

And that’s just a taste, so to speak.

So as soon as I finish the book I’m in the middle of (A.M. Homes, The Mistress’s Daughter; thumbs up) and write the reviews of Rethinking Thin and No One Belongs Here More than You I’ve been putting off, The Gospel of Food comes next.

*Speaking of The Culture of Fear, Frank Furedi’s book by almost the same name is just as awesome as Glassner’s. 

Posted in Fat

5 thoughts on “The Gospel of Food

  1. I enjoyed this book very much. I was a bit disappointed when I read an interview with Glassner in the LA Times following the book’s publication in which he said, “I’m not among those who argue that obesity is not a health danger.” Link: http://www.greatertalent.com/GTNnews.php?articleId=194

    He has, however, thoroughly poo-poohed dieting as any kind of “solution,” and has stated that multiple attempts at weight loss tend to make people fatter. Link: http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-oe-glassner2jan02,1,7743860.story?coll=la-headlines-health&ctrack=1&cset=true

    I suppose that when it comes to the MSM we have to take what we can get…le sigh.

  2. Absolutely right, he shouldn’t argue that obesity isn’t a health risk. The evidence is clearly there – though I guess this approach will sell him a few books.

    Cardiovascular disease (and others) is strongly associated with overweight, including when controlled for socio-economic status – lower SEC groups get a double whammy of tending to be less healthy and also having less cash to do anything about it. It’s crap. This does not get the rest of us off the hook.

    I’m afraid I’ve only read reviews of his book, but it’s a mixture of sensible advice – only be afraid of stuff that’s actually a threat – and than some really barking stuff, like the obesity/mortality/SEC thread.

  3. Tim, you do realize this is a fat acceptance blog, right?

    As for cardiovascular disease and overweight, you might want to check out this article from the American Heart Journal, or this one that references it from Junkfood Science, or Paul Campos’s The Obesity Myth, which I recommend here about once a day, or Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin, which is brand new and says many of the same things.

    The “obesity paradox” is a pretty well known phenomenon, and there is a growing body of evidence that the people at risk because of their weight are the extremely overweight and the underweight. The health risks for everyone in the middle of the bell curve are highly, highly debatable.

  4. hmm, no I was wondering what it was about. fair enough then…

    Interesting article, but it’s odd that they control for cardiorespiratory fitness, which I’m not sure is a confounding variable as it’s part of the causal pathway. It’s also dealing with a specific population, those with heart failure. I haven’t had time to review the paper properly yet though.

    Here’s an article rebutting some of the previous work on an obesity paradox: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/now/jun24/cdc.html

    They also point out that the health risks are more than just mortality.

    But with that I won’t disturb you further. Cheers

  5. Thanks for bowing out respectfully, Tim.

    And Rethinking Thin has a lot to say about research coming out of the Harvard School of Public Health. It’s interesting.

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