Industrial Food

Reviewed by Fuchsia Dunlop
Sunday, January 25, 2009


The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race

By Barry Popkin | Avery. 229 pp. $24.95


A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes

By Mark Bittman | Simon & Schuster. 326 pp. $25


An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat

By Hank Cardello with Doug Garr | Ecco. 257 pp. $25.99

The world is fat, proclaims the title of Barry Popkin's book -- something we all know by now, and all recognize as a disaster. But what are we going to do about it? This is the question addressed, in different ways, by him and two other authors.

Popkin, a distinguished nutritionist with more than 30 years' experience in international research, offers a concise, lucid overview of how the human diet has gone awry in the last half-century. The cause of the global obesity crisis, according to Popkin, is a toxic collision of evolutionary, economic and social factors. We seem to be programmed biologically to enjoy eating sugar and fatty foods; misguided agricultural subsidies and a clever food industry conspire to make us eat lots of refined carbohydrates and calorific soft drinks; and we, as individuals, sit around too much and eat too many snacks.

Popkin is frank about the overriding commercial motivations of companies selling processed foods, their often-biased approach to scientific research and their powerful lobbying ("Big Sugar" and "Big Beverage," he suggests, now behave as "Big Tobacco" once did, trying to suppress information damaging to their interests). Although some companies, he says, are attempting to change their ways -- for example, by cutting calories from their products -- they are unlikely to make real progress without government regulation. Meanwhile, agricultural subsidies make it more profitable for farmers to grow the ingredients of junk food than fruits and vegetables. And when individuals want to improve their diets, they are faced with a "cacophony of confusing, even ominous messages."

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