A food writer and historian argues that humans would be healthier with a more diverse diet.
McWilliams (History/Texas State Univ.; The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, 2015, etc.) continues the attack on foodies, locavores, highbrow restaurants, and agribusiness’s “corn-soy-sugar-animal complex” that he mounted in previous books. Here, the author profiles quirky individuals who are “pursuing peripheral culinary goals” that “have the potential to revolutionize how we think about the human diet.” The author’s overriding assumption is that it would be better for people, animals, and the environment if our diets were more diversified. Hundreds of plants and protein sources, he rightly notes, are overlooked in favor of a narrow range of food. McWilliams hopes for a “global food system that’s accessible, flexible, abundant, sustainable, healthy, humane, and resourceful.” How that ideal could be achieved is left to readers’ imaginations. The author champions the bonobo, which eats a diverse array of plants, insects, grubs, and shellfish, and cavemen, who hunted and foraged for all their food. McWilliams begins by focusing on the Reeds, obese parents and son who have been victimized, he contends, by “a food system that rendered them emotionally depressed, physically sick, and socially ostracized.” Determined to lose weight, they embarked on a diet and exercise program and achieved success within a short time. However, as the author acknowledges, their struggle will be lifelong, embedded as they are in a food culture intent on undermining them. Among others profiled are a family that exists on foraged plants and venison, felled with a bow and arrow; a man who gathers and sells seaweed; an insect farmer promoting the nutritional value of bugs; oyster farmers; and a motley group of freegans, who forage among trash bags outside of markets and restaurants. Sadly, writes the author, over 40 percent of food in America is thrown out.
McWilliams presents a solid argument, though it is not as radical or inspiring as he may have hoped, and the book could use more focused attention on creating the ideal world the author envisions.