Nutrition and historical food books

These books about all things gastronomical offer plenty of food for thought

Our Troubles With Food

Stephen Halliday

, The History Press, £18.99

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In 1988 a few comments from Edwina Currie on the prevalence of salmonella in eggs nearly leads to the collapse of the British egg industry. In first century AD, Greek physician Galen claims that ingesting fruit has potentially dangerous consequences, a false belief which remains largely unchallenged until the eighteenth century.

The connection? Ill-informed speculation, that’s what.

According to social historian Stephen Halliday’s chronicle of the past two millennia’s food fads, having more information doesn’t necessarily make our decisions smarter. Or our population healthier. For our nation’s madcap early nutrition scientists, their experiments were so ill-informed they included restrictive diets that led to fatal malnutrition.

And while Halliday acknowledges improvements in the science of modern nutrition through the pioneering twentieth century work of Nobel Prize winner Krebs and biochemist team McCance and Widdowson, he argues that our problems are far from over.

Obesity levels are rising, processed food now contains more kilocalories than nutrients and we consume far too much sugar, salt and high levels of saturated fat. According to Halliday, the latter are the new poisons, yet the food industry and Government – fully aware of the detrimental effect these foodstuffs have on our health – fail to act decisively.

At times, the reader may become slightly disoriented by the chapter cross-referencing, repeated information and leaps across centuries, yet Halliday provides a very broad perspective on our troubled relationship with food.

Zerlina Mastin, Time Out London Issue 2011: March 5-11 2009

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