A new book by retired Canadian history professor Harvey Levenstein seeks to draw connections between modern-day food phobias in the United States, the germ theory introduced by Louis Pasteur, and twentieth-century middle-class hysterias (often media-driven) about the various ways one could die from foodborne bacteria. But Louis Pasteur actually did some kind of important things vis-à-vis food safety, and the world has had plenty of very good reasons to fear our food supply, so we’re not totally clear on the point here.
The book, Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat, sounds pretty interesting, however the excerpt published over the weekend by Salon confuses us a bit. It seems to lean more toward academic philosophizing than concrete history, and we’re not sure how valid it is to draw connections between Puritan guilt and, say, E. coli spinach. To wit:
The residual Puritanism of the American middle class also helped make them susceptible to food fears. A culture that for hundreds of years encouraged people to feel guilty about self-indulgence, one that saw the road to salvation as paved by individual self-denial, made them particularly receptive to calls for self-sacriﬁce in the name of healthy living. This helped them lend a sympathetic ear to scientiﬁc nutritionists’ repeated warnings that good taste — that is, pleasure — is the worst guide to healthy eating.
Anyway, if you like this kind of free-associative romp through cultural history, this book might be right up your alley. We’ll stick to eating our smelly cheese and fearing pink slime.
The birth of food-phobia [Salon]