THE PARADOX OF PLENTY by Harvey Levenstein


A Social History of Eating in Modern America
Email this review


 Levenstein's Revolution at the Table (1988), which surveyed the changes in American food habits between 1880 and 1930, is widely deemed a major contribution to our culinary history. Here, he brings the story up to date. The author provides an overview made coherent by several running motifs: nutrition claims by experts, industry, and industry bashers; the ``nutrition terrorism'' of ``negative nutrition'' and industry's response by adopting the magic word ``natural''; and the patterns in which food fashions trickle up or down among classes. Also discussed are immigrants' gastronomic Americanization and, later, Americans' appropriation of ethnic foods; the concurrent rise of fast-food chains and ``gourmet'' dining; the politics of hunger from FDR on; and the far-from-original observation highlighted in the title: the paradox of hunger and plenty existing side by side. As the chronology proceeds and Levenstein (History/McMaster Univ., Ontario) comes closer to recent memory, the more impatient readers might become with his sweeping and cursory assertions and judgments--for example, his unspecific linking of New Left politics with the natural-foods movement, and his breezy dismissal of cholesterol concerns. (On this last topic, as throughout, he seems to be looking down with a faint disdain on all groups and views.) Still, Levenstein's examples and anecdotes of folly and worse, and his debunking of experts and authorities from Margaret Mead on, make lively reading. (Fifteen halftones.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-505543-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1992