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The Way We Eat Now: Fortnum & Mason Food Book of the Year 2020

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An award-winning food writer takes us on a global tour of what the world eats - and shows us how we can change it for the better. The book is a scholarly, but readable exploration of the hidden forces behind what we eat. The author explains how this food revolution has transformed our bodies, our social lives, and the world we live in.

401 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 7, 2019

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About the author

Bee Wilson

30 books180 followers
Beatrice Dorothy "Bee" Wilson (born 7 March 1974, Oxford) is a British food writer and historian. Wilson is married to the political scientist David Runciman and lives in Cambridge. The daughter of A.N. Wilson and the Shakespearean scholar Katherine Duncan-Jones, her sister is Emily Wilson, a Classicist at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 277 reviews
April 13, 2021
What I wanted was a book on what we eat now, the different foods, different preparations, how we eat - on the sofa, in the street, restaurants etc, what is changing and how food and eating are developing. But this is not that book. This book is about how food all over the world is the same, how it is somehow unnatural and regrettable that we can eat pizza anywhere instead of just Naples, how Chinese food is ubiquitous and everyone snacks too much.

It is about the lost golden world of yesterday where a banana (more about them later) was to be treasured, it was a wonderful surprise if you got a sweet grape rather than a bunch of sour or mediocre ones, and where people were healthier back in the good old days when they ate properly.

Actually they weren't. They might have been slimmer, possibly even fitter back in the '60s before food manufacturing companies decided that food, like cigarettes, could be addicting if they just got the right balance of sugar, fat and salt and a great marketing company. Food is only one element of health. There is also environment, working conditions, housing and water. Add to that infection. Which we know all about now.

Medicine, like all technology, has improved vastly in the last 60 years, people are living longer, many diseases that once killed are treatable if not curable. Obesity obviously causes many health problems but perhaps not as many fatal ones as the media likes to shock-horror us with, just before featuring a new diet -
Some diet gurus tell us to beware all grains; others tell us that we should fear supposedly 'acid-producing' foods ranging from dairy to meat and coffee. These new diets are perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a false promise of purity in a toxic world.
. But actually our food may not be that unhealthy, heart disease and stroke have gone down enormously since the beginning of the 20th C and since 1963, the peak year for coronary disease mortality in the US, has declined tto the extent that "621,000 fewer deaths occurred from coronary heart disease than would have been expected had the rate remained at its 1963 peak".
Age-adjusted death rates for stroke have declined steadily since the beginning of the century. Since 1950, stroke rates have declined 70%, from 88.8 in 1950 to 26.5 in 1996. Total age-adjusted CVD death rates have declined 60% since 1950 and accounted for approximately 73% of the decline in all causes of deaths during the same period. CDC
The consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol has declined (since a height of 1909), cigarette smoking has declined from 42% to 16% and mean blood pressure in the population has declined. The number of people who have hypertension being treated successfully has increased and there have been many effective advances in diagnosing and treating heart disease and stroke and the underlying conditions. This isn't to say there aren't health challenges from dietary causes, but it is saying that overall our diet has improved and we are healthier and living longer!

So the author hankers after the good old days of 'real' seasonal food and sour grapes! Although there is much reliance on statistics in the book, obviously they are all cherry-picked to fit in with this agenda and there is very little hard science.

Bananas. The author is against the ubiquitous Cavendish banana and bemoans the delicious Gros Michel that was wiped out from disease. She doesn't know why anyone likes Cavendish bananas when there are so many wonderful varieties in the world. There are! But I live in the tropics and there are a range of bananas I can get, bluggoes (triangular), finger (tiny) red (red, lol) and the ones that grow behind my shop. I don't know what variety they are or if they are sweet as they always get cut down and stolen in the night just when they are ripe. Most of the bananas are mealy and just all right, the Cavendish ripened properly is a lovely banana. I do use green bananas - try it sometime, they are really nice, like unripe plantains, cooked in stews.

I finally dnf'd the book after the chapter discussing why Indians in India look slimmer than their Western counterparts but have more body fat and there is a greater epidemic of type 2 diabetes there than anywhere else in the world. I just don't know if this is true after reading the above-quoted CDC report.

Essentially I gave the book up because i don't trust what is being said.

I've read two other of Bee Wilson's books, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat and Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats, both of which I rated 3 star. They were ok, didn't excite me, didn't teach me anything new or make me think about things I did know in a new way (which does excite me). I got this book because all her titles and subjects interest me and I expect I will read more of hers, I'm sure I'll hit on a 5 star one some day.
Profile Image for Max.
750 reviews19 followers
March 14, 2019
One of the best books about food and eating I've read. The Way We Eat Now describes our relationship with food in detail, but not in a preachy kind of way. This book is very informative, I've learned a lot of new things about food. The writing style is accessible for a lot of people, and it's easy to read even though you're not very knowledgeable of the topics discussed. I think this is an important book and I hope many people pick it up.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC to read. Opinions are my own!
Profile Image for Luca.
79 reviews56 followers
February 10, 2019
The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson is an insightful and astonishing book about our present-day eating habits.

“The story of modern cooking is not a simple tale of decline but a more complex and hopeful one. When we say that ‘no one cooks any more’ we often have in mind a particular version of home cooking that depended on women being confined to a life of unpaid labour. By contrast, the new cooking of our times is done by a wider range of people in a wider range of ways.”(284)

When I was about two chapters into this book I felt that it was not really addressing something new. I love cooking and estimate that I have a fairly reasonable talent for making sensible choices when it concerns food. Meat is off the limits for me, and I feel that I approach food-related trends with a critical, yet fair mindset. So what was this book offering me that I did not already know? Rather a lot, it turned out!

Our modern food culture is based on so many interrelated elements. There will always be elements that you probably would never have considered to be relevant, which turn out to be crucial. From the plates, we put our food on, to initiatives from various countries aimed at improving our diet, Bee Wilson achieved to discuss a great number of important aspects. The book reads a little bit like a collection of separate essays, so you can easily put it down if you feel a little bit overwhelmed. Actually, I think that would even be a good thing because the points that Wilson brings up deserve some thought. She continuously managed to surprise me by related topics, that I was familiar with (tasty videos, meal replacement shakes, and cooking because you enjoy cooking), but would have never thought of as relevant.

Now, what is great about The Way We Eat Now is that Wilson never gets judgmental. She never fails to highlight the positive aspects of modern food culture. Especially her section on the phenomenon that we now have a generation that has learned to cook from a screen rather than learning from family members really spoke to me. Change is not always a bad thing. But the one lesson we can derive from this is that we have to be mindful and critical about how change will affect people, our diet, and our planet.

After reading The Way We Eat Now it is clear to me that I am not going to change the way how we treat our food by myself, and neither are you. But together we can become more aware of our habits, and eventually push for a more sustainable kind of progress when it comes to improving the way we eat.

My rating for this book is 4 out of 5 stars. I received a digital copy of this book for free through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.
Profile Image for 7jane.
678 reviews256 followers
April 17, 2021
This book explores the hidden forces behind what we eat today, and how the modern world has changed things. The author is a food writer and a historian, and I think the latter shows up a bit, too; her Britishness and personal views are also in there, but far from distracting from the main thing of the book, and doesn’t irritate. So UK-centricness some, some US too, but we get to see many non-UK/US-stories and facts also, so this book does fit all.

Of course you may already be familiar with some of the bad ways the modern life has changed our minds about food, and how it has had an impact in why so many people eat unhealthy and suffer, but just be patient because you also get what modern life has made better (though you also get new views on the bad too). I didn’t know Häagen-Daz was from 1961 Bronx! *lol*

It’s really nice how the author takes in view of how the changes the modern world has seen appear in other countries like India, South Africa, Korea, Chile, Mexico, Ukraine… she also here and there sees how the food changes have appeared in lower-income classes (and how some good changes are missed by them, and some have indeed helped them).

More on content, by chapter:

The end chapter talks about what the author would suggest for better eating (though she does say that you can ignore some if you want). Examples like: the size of plates and glasses, what to drink, to vary what we eat, to make time for cooking and eating, using mindfulness to make your senses enjoy the way the foods smell, sound, taste.. I think these suggestions are a good way to end the book, and while she has made clear what she thinks are good foods (and drinks) in her opinion, I think in the end you feel that you can make your food world include whatever you prefer, even when avoiding the less-good foods (and drinks).
Even if some of the troubles here will be familiar to readers of state-of-the-food books, I still found things new to me, and things sounding positive to me, when reading this book, so reading this after the others is a good decision; so it felt to me.
(and as for those grapes (which are mentioned in the introduction): I don’t mind if they are with-seeds ones, though I do prefer them to be sweet and firm; and bananas I leave for others, Cavendish or not)
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books928 followers
June 25, 2019
A nice survey of the State of Food in the world. Most of the news is bad, of course, and always will be with Big Food (read: corporations) in charge. Monoculture has crept in, erasing many of the lines separating various food cultures, and monoculture is laced with sugar and processed oils and flashy marketing and cheap, genetically-modified wheat and soy and so forth.

Bottom line: In some ways we have way, way more choices than our grandparents did, food-wise, but in other ways they ate healthier than we do because they didn't have to deal with pesticides, food additives, reindeer games of science and genes, and produce that is puffed up to last as long as possible due to its distant travels.

Socio-economics play into the scene, too, of course. It's not by accident that the healthiest foods (e.g. fresh produce) cost more than highly-processed foods. If you're worried about stretching your dollar, you're likely obese. What makes sense economically makes no sense medically.

Just about everything you can think of is in here: meals in boxes, the snack bar craze, powdered protein smoothies, marketing to children (with dire results), diseases, detox crazes, diets, food fads, food corruption (where what you think is in the bottle is not in the bottle), the effects of plastic packaging, governmental oversight (Chile wins!) and lack thereof (hello, USA!).

Overall, filling and satisfying, though you may wish that some of the many categories went into greater depth, depending on your particular interests.
Profile Image for Rennie.
315 reviews62 followers
May 20, 2019
More like 2.5. This feels scoldy, even when I agree with many of her points (but not all...what's with this war on snacks?!) There's a lot of repetition and a bit too much opinion - in a long polemic against bananas in their typical form today (the Cavendish), the author mentions six or seven times how flavorless or bland or bad tasting they are. It's weird. If you don't like bananas, don't buy or eat them. But she does. She just also complains that they're not delicious.

I get where it's all coming from - people are overweight and unhealthy and what we eat is killing us, but there's also some talking out of both sides of the mouth here - we have so many options and international cuisines to pick and choose from nearly everywhere, but we have too much choice and that's bad; squash being bred to be smaller and more flavor-dense instead of watery = good, grapes bred to not have seeds or be sour = bad? Also an epilogue that tells us to buy smaller, old-timey dishes feels useless.

But it does have some useful and just interesting information, especially about historic diets and changes, and a good but very basic rundown about why clean eating, superfoods, and other food trends are bogus.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
700 reviews868 followers
September 15, 2019
Review copy received from the publisher, HarperCollins, in exchange for an honest review.

Informative and insightful, The Way We Eat Now should be read by pretty much anyone who wants to take charge of their eating norms, or habits. This was an easy and interesting read which did not come across as being preachy and judgmental. I really think all of us can do with having a bit more awareness of the food we consume, the rapid and oftentimes adverse changes wrought by the huge (processed) food industry, and the impact of the rise of superfoods (think quinoa and avocado) on the environment and the people who produced them. There are some topics in here which I found truly enlightening - such as the Cavendish bananas and 'thin-fat babies' of India.

I do consider myself to be fairly well-informed about food, having been through various diets and fads, which included reading relevant books or materials, in the past twenty years or so. There had been a lot of trial and error before I came to the point of not thinking of the word 'diet' as a bad thing, but as a conscious and willing choice of how I feed my body and mind. Armed with all that I've experienced, I think The Way We Eat Now offers adequately well-researched information to assist us in making that choice. The long list of references in the Bibliography at the end of the book indicated as much, and is of great help for those who want to delve deeper into a topic of interest.

Recommended reading, simply because we all owe it to ourselves to have more awareness about food and what we eat, even if we are not going to drastically change our habits.
Profile Image for Victoria (Eve's Alexandria).
664 reviews385 followers
May 11, 2019
My response to this analysis of contemporary diet and food culture was...underwhelming, but to some extent that’s due to my familiarity with many of the studies and trends that Bee Wilson covers. If you’re at all interested in these issues it’s likely you’ve heard it all before.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,377 reviews467 followers
July 13, 2019
Bee Wilson has a way with words and manages here to get across an important concept that is not earth shattering to anyone involved in public health but is diametrically opposed to what one hears all the time about obesity: namely that weight is simply a question of individual willpower to eat less and move more. Wilson illustrates how absurd that is in the context of massive global forces affecting what we eat.
In terms of what to do, she points to some international stories of success or promise: South Korea, Chile, Denmark, Amsterdam, illustrating how effective solutions to the obesity epidemic need to be multifaceted, big picture, long-term.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,212 reviews35 followers
February 19, 2021
Putting this aside unfinished. Whilst many of the points and issues Wilson raises are pertinent and interesting, a lot of words have been used to say very little; so much of the first section feels repetitive, accompanied by a bit of stating-the-bleeding-obvious. The author is a food writer and journalist (rather than a nutritionalist), and something about the way this is written isn't sitting right with me - other reviewers have described her tone as scolding and I think that's a fair assessment.

The author also seems to have a lot of strong opinions on the modern banana (its taste, shape, nutritional value) but freely admits to eating them herself and giving them to her children?! I don't know.

There's a few chapters which I will probably skim as they're of interest to me - I want to see what she has to say about clean eating and gluten - but I don't feel like I'll be missing all that much by tossing this aside for the time being.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
May 18, 2020
This was a very good book on a topic that I've read a lot about. I learned a lot from it because Wilson travels the world and talks to many experts about the commodification of food and the way our work lives have changed the way we have meals. That's the brilliance of the book--it's not just about the food, but the time we spend eating and the culture around meals that is the focus and all those things end up affecting our relationship to food and to our families.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,905 reviews22 followers
March 7, 2021
I'm not quite sure why I'm giving this 5 stars. Normally it would be 4, but I think the messages that author highlighted are ones that need to be heard, plus I'd read this one again. And again, I'm not sure why I'd do that, but I know I would.

So with that bit of waffling, I'll begin my review. I listened to the audio and I really enjoyed it. The author did her own narration and it was well done with little voice drama. She tended to romanticize the eating habits of yesteryear and dabbled a lot in nostalgia, but I could not say she was wrong. As a matter of fact, I couldn't have agreed more.

She mentions how food is in such excess, yet people are either malnourished or ill (neither scenario is a win). If you have to stretch your dollar at the grocery store, do you buy veggies for your kids or do you buy cheap carbs that will fill their bellies for longer? Definitely food for thought. So 5 stars.
Profile Image for Berna Labourdette.
Author 17 books484 followers
June 28, 2022
Me encanta esta escritora (amé su libro: La importancia del tenedor y su libro Sandwich: A Global History es MUY entretenido). Acá presenta un análisis interesante a cómo la globalización ha afectado de manera directa los alimentos disponibles (como el plátano y una variedad específica, la Cavendish y cómo se ponen de moda algunos en detrimento de las comunidades que siempre los han comido: como la palta y la quínoa), las formas de comer y de cocinar (con kits especiales para cocinar en poco tiempo en casa) y la abundancia de comida en general. MUY interesante además porque aparece Chile con el plan de etiquetado de alimentos y el retiro de los personajes de los cereales para niños (además de los kinder sorpresa). 
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,185 reviews77 followers
August 18, 2021
Wilson focuses on the bind created as we’ve moved away from staving off starvation as a species and now have ready access to plenty - but plenty of ultra-processed, not very healthy foods. She identifies problems with monocultures and sameyness, lack of time and variety, and so on. Some of the statistics and examples she cites are quite interesting, and I appreciated her effort, not entirely successful, to reject the language of purely personal responsibility and fat-shaming and look more closely at the ‘food environment.’

It is a bit of an awkward blend at times in eliding the factual and the anecdotal, as many of her personal anecdotes not surprisingly reflect her own background and experiences but are presented as standing for a wider truth (a young friend tells her something about her peer group, or the author recalls something about her experience of the 1980s or 1990s - not necessarily universal though!). I did really like the chapter on cooking, which wasn’t all doom and gloom that women aren’t slaving over the stove like a Michael Pollan rant, but was more positive about more people than ever not minding cooking, including men. Finally, Wilson’s obsession with the purportedly bland Cavendish banana ubiquitous in all our stores puzzles me - the pernicious effect of a monoculture I understand, but it really doesn’t occur to her that some of us …like bananas?)
Profile Image for Viv JM.
692 reviews153 followers
January 3, 2020
This book is a fascinating, engaging and unsentimental account of both what we eat and how we eat and the impact this has had on our lives and on the larger society. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Profile Image for ash | spaceyreads.
346 reviews204 followers
September 1, 2019
Bee Wilson writes about our decisions around food, the food industry, and consumerism in The Way We Eat Now. Wilson talks to consumers, experts, businesses, and discusses the research, history, and philosophy behind phenomenons that are hot topics nowadays: health, dieting, eating disorders, cooking, quality of food, and more.

I found her book to be an enjoyable read but underdeveloped on many fronts, which is a shame. As this is my first foray into reading about food, I read a bunch of other goodreads reviews to get a sense of the community's opinion on where she stands in the food writing genre. It looks to me like she's trying to marry writing about food with writing about issues around food, which is more difficult than it sounds. I can see her bare attempts at trying to celebrate food and a variety of ways of eating and cultures around eating, but having to balance that with honest criticism about issues such as the environmental impact of over-consumption, the meat industry, health issues around eating out, and so on.

If done well, this can make the discussion very insightful. However, this requires skill and tact which Wilson did not always show. It actually makes a very confusing book because she sounds inconsistent. Her thoughts on vegetarianism are all over the place. She talked about loving how Indian food makes vegetarian food a delicious norm, and laments how this isn't the same in Europe, and then eventually concludes that our current meat eating habits are exploitative, extravagant, and unsustainable, but then go on to decry Western vegetarianism and veganism as a fad and concludes that 'flexitarianism' seems more doable. This shows to me the conflict between celebrating food and talking about social issues - it is rarely said in the same breath when it comes to meat as food. So a worthy attempt - but I think it fell short. This results in two types of unhappy readers - readers who come to read about food feel scolded for their decisions around food. Readers who come for more critical commentary don't get much.

On the issue of social commentary, I am personally disappointed at her deft skipping over gender roles and its social impact when it comes to the global decrease in hours spent (her words) cooking at home. She cited research that said that the average worker now works 1000 hours less a year now than in 1900, which meant that we have a lot more time to cook. Does this 'average worker' also include housewives, and other unpaid caregivers, such as children (especially girls) who often also help out around the kitchen? She did eventually bring up the issue a few chapters later of how home cooking was traditionally an unpaid and unappreciated role fostered onto women with no choice, and while the rise of feminism did meant that people ate food that was of lesser quality now, it also meant that, um, women have rights.

I felt that this showed bad editing - I think with some rewording and rewriting of a few sentences, it could have been said in a way which made more impact and relevance to the issue of home cooking vs eating out which she was very passionate about, but instead felt like it was added in reluctantly, as though women's rights were secondary to the issue of having fresh hot homecooked food on your table. I'm sure that wasn't Wilson's intention, but like I said, editing makes a difference.

She also uses a lot of personal anecdotes to support her points - either hers or that or her interviewees. She talked about preserving eating as a social activity, and laments - condescending, I might add - how she noticed millennials seem to like pictures of food more than food itself with their 'hashtags' and their 'instagram'. I also have a personal anecdote to support my counterpoint. I take pictures of food eaten or made with family and friends and post them on instagram to look back and be reminded of the joyful memory of eating and cooking with loved ones. But nevermind that - my point is her personal anecdotes add little to the value of her book.

I felt that she could also have done more for readers to feel more confident in the research she was citing. There were references to many outdated research papers. It was also unclear if extraneous variables were accounted for in these papers. For example, Wilson wanted to show the difference between eating the Japanese way and eating the American way - suppose the former was correlated with better health indicators. The research compared eating habits of two types of Japanese men in America - one group was less assimilated with American culture than the other. The research found that the assimilated group had significantly worse health indicators. My question is - did the research account for variables such as stress -perhaps the assimilated group faced more racism in their community or pressure trying to fit in? And I'm sure any researcher could think of others. The whole book was propped up by such research, which really did not make me more convinced of the points she was making.

That said, one concept I appreciated her making accessible to readers is the concept of choice around eating and health. It's a persistent myth that poor people making bad eating choices and people with obesity again, make bad eating choices.

“We speak of having better food choices, but for the most part, we eat the foods that food companies want to sell us.”

Wilson took the chance to write some very strong chapters on the food industry and how we were not given the right options to make choices from. She brought into light how poverty and inequality affects the options afforded to us - when fast food and frozen food is cheaper than fresh vegetables in terms of how many calories you can buy with a certain amount of money, when sugary unhealthy snacks are the only source of comfort and entertainment money can buy for a family in poverty, when fast food companies run targeted ads on TV to poor children knowingly, it is no wonder how poverty is correlated with poor health.

“As things stand, our culture is far too critical of the individuals who eat junk foods and not critical enough about the corporations that profit from selling them. We spend a lot of time discussing unhealthy foods in terms of individual guilt and willpower and not enough looking at the morality of big food companies that have targeted some of the poorest consumers in the world with products that will make them sick, or the governments that allowed them to do so.”

She is also passionate about overconsumption of bad food - overconsumption is unsustainable for the environment and unnecessary for us - especially when most of the options that was made appealing to us are oversized portions of sugar and processed foods.

My favourite takeaway from this is a proposed new food classification system NOVA and how to use it in your daily life - Group 1 being unprocessed/minimally processed foods, Group 2 bring processed culinary ingredients, Group 3 being processed foods, and Group 4 being ultra-processed food and drink products. The link includes a recommendation on how much of each group of foods to include in your diet. Even the name for the last one is food for thought.

Overall, an enjoyable read, bunch of good points made but jarred with inconsistent commentary and unconvincing research.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
Author 8 books9 followers
March 12, 2019
A wonderful book! Anyone who is concerned about wellness, weight gain, or the environment needs to read this book. Bee Wilson has done a marvelous and comprehensive study of the vast changes in how we eat during the last thirty or so years. She covers it all - grocery stores, vegetable vs. meat consumption, advertising and marketing of food, the new boxed meal kits, and why all these changes took place in the years after WWII.

An excellent book, strongly and highly recommended. The author is a terrific storyteller, so this book is both informative and a great read. I truly enjoyed it, and it will change how I eat from now on.
Profile Image for Debbi.
339 reviews88 followers
June 30, 2019
If you love food writing and are interested in global food issues much of this information will be familiar. I am sure Bee Wilson could teach a great food history class, she is knowledgeable and invested in her subject, but unfortunately on occasion had to pinch myself to stay awake.
Profile Image for Brian Hagerty.
31 reviews
June 4, 2019

I picked this up after reading an Atlantic article discussing it and a few related titles. I was disappointed, mostly because Wilson's comments about how we should eat are uninformed. This book is really just an extended opinion piece rather than an evidence-based assessment of what is wrong with our food system and our diets. To be fair, Wilson isn't a nutritionist and doesn't pretend to be, and her goal is to make sweeping statements about the global food system. And she does helpfully point out the perniciousness of the spread of processed foods and oils.

But she makes a lot of wrongheaded statements. Though some are couched as opinions, they still come across as if they are based on evidence (though they are not). For instance, she says (p. 214):

To me, eating more vegetarian meals—but not exclusively so—feels like a pragmatic path through the jungle of modern food options. . . . 'Only buy the best meat you can afford, grass-fed for preference,' say a host of experts on ethical eating. [No source cited!] . . . For me, the best compromise has been to make meat a smaller element than it used to be in my family's eating without eliminating it altogether.

First, a lot of experts on "ethical eating" would say eating animals is unethical. And setting ethics aside, meat is unhealthy, period. Read How Not to Die by Michael Greger or Dean Ornish's work or the work of Neal Barnard and the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine and you will realize that the best science shows that meat, dairy, and eggs promote a host of illnesses and have no dietary upside. So reducing meat is better than not doing so—but eliminating it is even better. Wilson, however, implies that eating some meat is somehow preferable to being vegan, and that is simply not true.

To take another example, in the epilogue where she does actually give diet advice, she says (pp. 300-01):

For most of us, a less meat or less sugar diet is easier to achieve than one without any meat or sugar at all. . . . What does a healthy pattern of eating look like? Many nutritionists advocate the Mediterranean diet, consisting of olive oil, fish, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Others prefer the newer concept of a Nordic diet, a sustainable way of eating rich in berries and dark grains such as rye, barley, and oats; rapeseed oil; and oily fish such as herring and salmon. But those of us who live neither in the Mediterranean nor [in] Scandinavia may have to invent our own patterns of eating. Fumiaki Imamura told me that since moving to the United States and Britain from Japan, he had asked many people what a healthy local diet looked like 'and no one has been able to answer me.' The fact that no one can yet identify a healthy American diet is worrying, but you could also see it as an opportunity. The future of our diets is a blank slate on which we are free to write our own rules.

This is really a pernicious and wrongheaded message. First, so what if it's "easier" to reduce meat and sugar than to eliminate it? No kidding! It's also easier to eat fast food than to cook a meal. I don't need a journalist to tell me it's easier to do the unhealthy thing than the healthy thing.

More important, Wilson should not be perpetuating the myth that nutrition is some confusing, trackless wilderness that we must get through based on our intuition. It is simply not true that "no one can yet identify a healthy American diet." And of course, diets are a "blank slate" only if you don't care what science tells us about what we should be eating. Science tells us to eat a whole-food plant-based diet, with minimal (or no) refined oils and sugar. Science does not tell us that we should be eating oil or fish. Again, the work of Neal Barnard and the Physician's Committee on Responsible Medicine is helpful here, and he has a great short video explaining that a vegan diet is healthier than the Mediterranean diet.

In short, though some aspects of this book are useful, much of the information in it is just intuition, sentiment, and guesswork, and some of it is flat wrong. I think the wrong information outweighs what is useful, and I do not recommend it.

Profile Image for GONZA.
6,366 reviews107 followers
May 7, 2019
This is not a recipes book or a diet one, is an interesting survey on what we eat now, and why and mostly it explains why in less than 100 years our eating habits changed so much. I really appreciate the way the author handles the researches and the results without saying what should be better and why, I mean she does it also, but she doesn't do that hiding between the results that she chose to put forward her theory, which is something that usually happens whenever we read about food and all the things that we are not supposed to eat, but still we do. All in all, a very special book about food.

Questo non é né un libro di ricette, nè una nuova dieta, é un'osservazione piena di ricerche e studi sull'attuale stato della nutrizione in tutte le parti del mondo e di come le nostre abitudini alimentari siano cambiate in meno di 1oo anni. Quello che ho apprezzato particolarmente dell'autrice, é stato il suo modo di illustrare tutte le ricerche e non solo quelle che lei ritenevano fossero piú utili a portare avanti il suo punto di vista, o un tipo di alimentazione rispetto ad un'altra, e questo non capita di solito in questo tipo di libri, dove gli autori sono soliti portare l'acqua al loro mulino ignorando risultati che non confermano le loro teorie rispetto a cosa sia il caso di mangiare e cosa sia meglio evitare. Tutto sommato un ottimo libro sul cibo.

Profile Image for Lisa.
1,379 reviews
August 17, 2019
This is a fantastic book that should be used to teach everyone the problem food manufacturing has on health and environment. To the reviewers who think the author is too judgmental - suck it up. Her facts are supported by the evidence she provides. She thoroughly outlines the paradox of a world with people eating so much more yet are so much less healthy for it. The quantity of salt, sugar, and fat in nonfoods marketed as food is killing people. She ends the book on a hopeful note with examples of how several communities, including Amsterdam, Chile, and even England have reversed the trends and have substituted real food for manufactured crap. It requires the government to step in with policies that will protect health and environment. I’m ashamed to live in a country that just will not do this. Corporate profits are prioritized over health and environment and the corporations have even brainwashed their customers into thinking it’s their right to eat crap. I especially like the author’s philosophy that it is unfair to blame people for obesity and the health effects it causes. People don’t always have access to healthy food, junk costs less, and false claims by the industry misinforms them into not realizing they aren’t getting nutrients from the junk pushed on them.
Profile Image for Emanuel.
87 reviews41 followers
May 12, 2019
There's an excerpt at the back cover that reads "this book should be required reading for everyone." I couldn't agree more. Such a thought-provoking book that deals with a universal act played out every single minute somewhere in the world, and yet not many of us realise the forces behind it. The Way We Eat Now highlights some key moments in the food transition with plenty of examples and research and backed by scientific evidence without ever sounding formal or academic of even preach-y. If you're remotely interested in what goes on your plate, why or what you eat the way you do or simply want to get a very interesting insight in the food/diet/nutrition movement, I'd highly recommend picking this up.
Profile Image for Lucy Wordley.
56 reviews
January 25, 2021
This was an interesting overview of modern diets and eating habits. As I have already read quite a lot on this subject a lot of the information was quite familiar, especially in the first few chapters. However there were some interesting topics brought up and points covered which I hadn't considered before which made this well worth reading. The discussions around liquid meal replacements, Tasty videos and the ubiquity of protein bars felt particularly fresh and relevant. What I really liked about this book was Bee Wilson's non-judgemental approach; she provided a balanced picture of modern eating around the world with the right balance of references to scientific studies, unique viewpoints and personal anecdotes. Rather than just telling us everything that is wrong with modern ways of eating (which is often the case with books on the topic, providing maybe one chapter at the end with some hope for the future), the book also demonstrates where there has been progress, where there is more to a story than we may previously have thought and a sympathetic understanding of the limitations that the reality of modern living puts on the diets of many.
Profile Image for Dominic Carlin.
238 reviews3 followers
May 27, 2020
Like every other person’s review of The Way We Eat Now, this review will begin with a discussion of my own eating habits. Put bluntly, they’ve changed substantially over the last 10 … scratch that, 5 … scratch that 2 years. 10 years ago, I couldn’t cook, I ate curries and whatever my dad cooked. 5 years ago I began to develop a new palate, eating various cuisines from around the world. 2 years ago, I read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and, like the science-mad cliche that I am, began to actually cook well.

My relationship with food has changed so much I now also read books like The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson, reading about food for pleasure rather than a purely functional search for new recipes. Well, what little pleasure you can derive from a book that charts the slow descent towards a predominant culture of fast, processed, convenient food anyway.

Shifts in eating habits appear to correlate directly with a society’s wealth. As communities grow richer there is typically a corresponding increased desire for luxury foods (think meat, avocadoes and fancy oils). ‘Inferior goods’ (read: staples) like milk, bread and eggs however, are surprisingly sensitive to changes in price, though one suspects that’s because people have never eaten Clarence Court eggs.

The increased demand for luxury goods has been accompanied by a commensurate increase in packaged snacks, soft drinks and ready meal consumption. This may be due to women’s growing role in the work place. Once the primary homemaker – okay, still the primary homemaker – but now also a main breadwinner, there is now less time available to plan, shop for and cook homemade meals, leading to the rising role of convenient, if often unhealthy, food. Another contributing factor may be relatively increased price of vegetables not only compared to meat where quantity now often trumps quality, but also compared to vegetables themselves many years ago.

Inevitably The Way We Eat spends many pages discussing how changes in eating habits have led to changes in health. Portion sizes – the comparison of plate and wine glass sizes through the years is once again presented here (so are the quinoa and Cavendish banana stories) – are on the rise and so are obesity and type 2 diabetes! Dietary changes have led to less diversity in gut microbiomes, again apparently linked to obesity and diabetes! As a medical student I should probably be more interested in these sections. Alas I am not. Diet will inevitably play a massive role in health and wellbeing. It probably even has a role in management of disease. But as somebody yet to experience the magical transformation changes in diet bring? Well it’s just hard to get excited.

What does get me excited? Huel and HelloFresh obviously! Wilson interviews the founders involved in both of these and let me tell you, they are gold. For those who don’t know, Huel – a portmanteau of human fuel – is a vile sounding meal replacement product targeted not at the old or infirm, but at those who truly value nutrition over taste. Huel’s inspiration, apparently, is the modest cucumber. Quite why the cucumber is the subject of this guy’s ire for being 97% water, 0% nutrients, I’m not sure. At least cucumbers are tasty, has this guy even encountered iceberg lettuce? No, Huel is designed to give you all the nutrition you need, even if it tastes like… well, whatever it tastes like.

Similarly, Hello Fresh also put taste (slightly) to one side. Their recipes designed for the busy home cook who wants a meal cooked in a focus-group derived 27 minutes from prep to plate, rather than the tastiest meal possible. If people want sub-par, out-of-season food for twice the price though, fair play to them. As somebody who has ascended to the stage where making a mayonnaise is actually enjoyable, these products will never win me over compared to a nice restaurant meal or takeaway. Though maybe not a Deliveroo, now I’m aware of quite how big the cut they take is.

The environmental impact of services like Hello Fresh is also a concern. For years I’ve been subconsciously guided by my wife towards lower impact, mostly plant and grain based diet. However, after many discussions with friends easily swayed by Netflix propaganda, ethical and environmental concerns have begun to take a greater conscious role in my food choices. All the meat we’ve bought over the past 3 months has been local, organic, grass-fed and very expensive from a local butcher’s. Much of the veg that we’ve bought recently has been locally sourced from a nearby greengrocer. If my wife gets her way, we might even start getting grains and cereals from a local zero waste store.

A happy side-effect of bypassing the large supermarkets is apparently a slimmer wasteline, but that’s besides the point for me. A diet predominantly based on plants uses 1/6th the land mass of one based on meat. If countries like Spain returned to their traditional diet, greenhouse emissions fall by 72%. Do individual contributions like mine make any difference? No, of course not, but they make me feel better.

Ultimately it will take state and big business interventions to truly bring about the changes needed. So I’ll end this review with my favourite attempt by Sainsbury’s to introduce more veg into our diets: a vegetable butcher, who will julienne and spiralise courgettes to our heart’s content. Sounds absolutely insane, doesn’t it.


PSA: You can read book reviews and a variety of other random thoughts of mine on my blog, still going strong after 2 months, at http://bydcarlin.wordpress.com. Dare you.
Profile Image for Lucy Olivia.
333 reviews3 followers
June 9, 2021
What a brilliant book! I loved that way it looked at food in a social, economic and personal way. I enjoyed every single page of this book and it taught me so much about our current eating habits and ways things have gone awry in society with food and nutrition. 5*
Profile Image for Emily.
130 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2021
There is a reason why the nutritional science field is seen as pretentious. Because it come off as pretentious, it makes it at times really difficult to read books about it. Which is unfortunate, because there are some excellent points made but they are also mixed with some very biased claims and statements that offer little advice and focus mainly on guilt and food shaming, which would not inspire actual long term change in eating habits. There is also a weird type of golden age thinking that also discounts and actually criticizes progress that's been made.

People's relationship with food is delicate and personal- and I think that focusing on that would incite more people to genuinely care about it and make little changes with long term benefits rather than constantly shaming people for choices they don't always know they're making.
Profile Image for Janet.
286 reviews12 followers
November 7, 2019
I really wanted to like this book but I think this might be a situation where I’m too invested and knowledgeable about the subject to enjoy this. Most of the stories in this book I had already heard in different food podcasts. The suggestions for how to improve our relationship to food I’ve already integrated into my life, or I don’t think they’re for me.

I think the struggle is the dichotomy between the fact that I think Wilson wants to take a strong stance on how people should be eating and living, but then is also trying to recognize that it’s a very personal issue and people have different values and limitations. It just turns into this strange sort of wistful nostalgia, but then sort of undercuts it with “but people might not have access to these things or share these values”.

I don’t disagree with this book or it’s overall message. I just think that we know we’re eating a ton of processed food that’s bad for us, and combat that by chasing crazy food fads we know aren’t going to magically fix that problem. But Reese’s peanut butter cups are delicious. And cutting up the vegetables I get from a local farm each week takes a lot of time, mental energy, and isn’t cheap. So this book just put me back into the constant daily battle of health vs money vs time vs happiness vs values, which there’s no answer to where the balance is between them.
Profile Image for Jenny Chase.
Author 1 book10 followers
May 7, 2019
I gave up on this about halfway through, because it was more polemic than informative for someone who is basically interested in food. There are a few nuggets - like the idea that the original sort of banana tasted much better than the modern Cavendish - but it is horribly padded. A low point was taking 5 pages to explain repeatedly that our satiety response doesn't seem to react to liquids.

There are also a few lines that might actually have gone in interesting directions - eg the throwaway idea that diet drinks are no better than sugary ones for prediabetic people. But this was just dropped. Why? What are the confounding factors in such a study? The result just seems like fetishisation of historic ways of eating, rather than a real review of the science. There are others - for example, after asserting that soybeans were planted in Brazil to improve the soil between wheat crops, the book then talks about how soybeans are very fertilizer intensive. Possibly the fertilizer is potassium and phosphorous rather than the nitrates fixed by soybeans, but this seemed an incongruous barrier to actually believing this.

Anyway, just not information dense enough.
Profile Image for Mary.
436 reviews7 followers
November 18, 2019
This is a good read on how the shifts in food production have shaped the way humans eat across cultures. The way we eat today is incredibly far removed from the way our ancestors eat, and the influence of multinationals on the types of food that are accessible and affordable to different socio-economic demographics cannot be understated.

However, be cautious if you've struggled with disordered eating or eating disorders. While the author claims that they don't agree with the moralizing of food, the push for an idealized way of eating (e.g. no snacking) and/or restrictive type of food consumption can be extremely triggering for some readers. Likewise, while saying that they don't ascribe to "good" or "bad" foods, the recommendations at the end of the book can be harmful for anyone with a history of disordered eating by demonizing certain food groups, such as "don't drink your calories" or "fill up on protein and vegetables before eating carbs". Ditto for the advice to eat from small plates to reduce food intake, which is a classic mind trick right out of diet culture and disordered eating.
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