The anxiety of eating

David E. Cooper reviews The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals by Michael Pollan, in the Times Literary Supplement:

Many of us have given a passing and grateful thought to those distant ancestors who, to their cost but our benefit, first sampled death-cap toadstools, deadly nightshade and other lethal impostors. And all of us give more than a passing thought to those of our contemporaries unfortunate enough to have eaten poultry or beef infected with E.coli 0157:H7, salmonella, or BSE. Their fates oblige the rest of us to weigh considerations of health against the convenience, price and pleasures of the foods we must decide among. Nor, of course, are issues of health confined to the risks of infection. On the World Health Organization’s definition, obesity – with its well-documented contributions to illness – is now the condition of over 60 per cent of Americans, with the British rapidly catching up. Disease, obesity, tooth decay and countless other food related threats to our health, however, are only one aspect of the wider problem announced in the title of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma – just one of the matters at stake when we ask ourselves, “Fats or carbs? Three square meals or continuous grazing? Raw or cooked? Organic or industrial? Veg or vegan? Meat or mock meat?”. The dilemmas of what, when and how we should eat, urges Pollan, constitute a “big existential problem”, for the way we eat represents nothing less than “our most profound engagement with the natural world”.

More here.