Why You Eat What You Eat
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 A wide-ranging summary, by an Oxford anthropologist, of existing studies and ideas--as well as historical material--on the meaning we find in food and eating. Three of MacClancy's statements convey his far-from-novel message. The first: ``Whatever food you can think of, no matter how disgusting or nasty, the chances are someone, somewhere is eating it.'' The second, in paraphrase: Every culture has its dietary rules, not necessarily dictated by nutrition or the range of available edibles. And the third: ``Our ideas about pollution [and about food in general] are just about as culture bound, and as irrational, as anybody else's.'' These points run through discussions of religious taboos; daily meal-schedules throughout history; aphrodisiacs; famine food; cannibalism; etiquette; eating disorders; the impact of supermarkets; and that dead old horse, British bad taste. MacClancy observes that our range for ethnic restaurants is a limited form of gastronomic tourism--we don't want anything too different--and finds that pica (the eating of clay, laundry starch, etc., during pregnancy) came to America with African slaves. But there are few bright new insights. The author's explanation of why people eat chiles falls flat in comparison with Amal Naj's in last year's Peppers. Perhaps inevitably, MacClancy tends to overgeneralize--on ``the hippies''; ``vegetarians''; ``some people'' as representative of a cultural characteristic--and to reduce prevailing and alternative views to simplistic levels. What, for example, do we make of his comments on the ``significance of secret meals together'' experienced ``when a heterosexual woman embarks on her first lesbian relationship''? And there are other attempts at cuteness: Pregnant women are ``budding mums''; Western culture is alone in its squeamishness about eating ``delicious creepy crawlies''; and ``card-carrying Freudians'' have this or that to say about the association between food and sex. Is this donnish humor? No landmark, then, but the time is ripe for an introductory synthesis, and MacClancy knows, and covers, the territory.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8050-2578-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993