By Bee Wilson
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INTRODUCTION: THE GATHERERS AND THE HUNTED
PICK A BUNCH OF GREEN GRAPES, WASH IT, AND PUT ONE in your mouth. Feel the grape with your tongue; observe how cold and refreshing it is: the crisp flesh and the jellylike interior with its mild, sweet flavor.
Eating grapes can feel like an old pleasure, untouched by change. The ancient Greeks and Romans loved to eat grapes, as well as to drink them in the form of wine. The Odyssey speaks of “a ripe and luscious vine, hung thick with grapes.” As you pull the next delicious grape from its stalk, you could easily be plucking it from a Dutch still life of the seventeenth century, where grapes are tumbled on a metal platter with oysters and half-peeled lemons.
But look closer at this bunch of green grapes, cold from the fridge, and you see that this fruit is not unchanged after all. Like so many other foods, grapes have become a product of engineering designed to please modern eaters. First of all, there are almost certainly no grape seeds for you to either chew or spit out (unless you are in certain places, such as Spain or China, where seeded grapes are still tolerated). Strains of seedless grapes have been cultivated for centuries, but it is only in the past two decades that seedless has become the norm, to spare us the dreadful inconvenience of seeds.
Here’s another strange new thing about grapes: the mainstream ones in supermarkets, such as Thompson Seedless and Crimson Flame, are always sweet—not bitter, acidic, or foxy like a Concord grape, or excitingly aromatic like one of the Muscat varieties of Italy, but just plain sweet, like sugar. On biting into a grape, the ancients did not know if it would be ripe or sour. The same was true, in my experience, as late as the 1990s. It was like grape roulette: a truly sweet one was rare and therefore special.
These days, the sweetness of grapes is a sure bet because in common with other modern fruits, such as red grapefruit and Pink Lady apples, our grapes have been carefully bred and ripened to appeal to consumers reared on sugary foods. Fruit bred for sweetness does not necessarily have to be less nutritious, but modern de-bittered fruits tend to contain fewer of the phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables many of their protective health benefits. Most of the phytonutrients in green grapes were in the seeds. A modern red or purple seedless grape will still be rich in phenolics—nutrients that reduce the risk of certain cancers—from the pigments in its skin. But green seedless grapes contain few of these phytonutrients at all. Such fruit still gives us energy but not necessarily the health benefits we would expect.1
The very fact that you are nibbling seedless grapes so casually is also new. I am old enough to remember a time when grapes—unless you were living in a grape-producing country—were a special and expensive treat. But now, millions of people on average incomes can afford to behave like the reclining Roman emperor of TV cliché, popping grapes into our mouths one by one. Globally, we both produce and consume twice as many grapes as we did in the year 2000. Grapes are an edible sign of rising prosperity because fruit is one of the first little extras that people spend money on when they start to have disposable income. The year-round availability of grapes also speaks to huge changes in global agriculture. Fifty years ago, table grapes were a seasonal fruit, grown in just a few countries and eaten only at certain times of year. Today, they are cultivated globally and never out of season.2
Almost everything about grapes has changed, and fast. And yet grapes are the least of our worries when it comes to food: just one tiny element in a much larger series of kaleidoscopic transformations in how and what we eat that have happened in recent years. These changes are written on the land, on our bodies, and on our plates (insofar as we even eat off plates anymore).
FOR MOST PEOPLE ACROSS THE WORLD, LIFE IS GETTING better but diets are getting worse. This is the bittersweet dilemma of eating in our times. Unhealthy food, eaten in a hurry, seems to be the price we pay for living in liberated modern societies. Even grapes—so sweet, so convenient, so ubiquitous—are symptoms of a food supply that is out of control. Millions of us enjoy lives that are freer and more comfortable than those our grandparents lived, a freedom underpinned by the amazing decline in global hunger. You can measure this life improvement in many ways, whether by the growth of literacy and smartphone ownership, the spread of labor-saving devices such as dishwashers, or the rising number of countries where gay couples have the right to marry. Yet our free and comfortable lifestyles are undermined by the fact that our food is killing us, not through its lack but through its abundance—a hollow kind of abundance.*
What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015, around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke and 3.3 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12 million deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as those that arise from diets low in vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and seafood or diets high in salt (mostly from processed food) and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food—good in every sense, from flavor to nutrition—used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.3
Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet.4 Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate. In today’s world, it can be hard to know how to eat for the best. Some binge; some restrict. Some put their faith in expensive “superfoods” that promise to do things for the human body that mere food cannot. Others—this is how far things have gone—have lost faith in solid food altogether, choosing instead to drink one of the new meal-replacement beverages—curious beige liquids that have become an aspirational form of nutrition.
To our grandparents, it would not have seemed credible for any hungry human being to think that not eating was a better option than eating. But our grandparents never had to live and eat in a bewildering and complex food culture such as ours.
At no point in history have edible items been so easy to obtain, and in many ways, this is a glorious thing. Humans have always gone out and gathered food, but never before has it been so simple for us to gather anything we want, whenever and wherever we want it, from sachets of squid ink to strawberries in winter. We can get sushi in Buenos Aires, sandwiches in Tokyo, and Italian food everywhere. Not so long ago, to eat genuine Neapolitan pizza, a swollen-edged disk of dough cooked in a blistering oven, you had to go to Naples. Now, you can find Neapolitan pizza—the real deal, cooked in a suitably hot oven using the right dough—as far afield as Seoul and Dubai. Thanks to the new home delivery apps such as Deliveroo and Seamless, we can have food from almost any cuisine on our doorstep in minutes.
The gatherers of the world never had it so good. In our hunter-gatherer past, if you wanted a taste of something sweeter than fruit, you called a group of brave comrades together and went on a long, perilous expedition, scrambling up rocks, hunting in crevices for wild honey. Often, the honey hunters came back empty-handed. Now, if you fancy a taste of something sweet, you head to the nearest shop with a little loose change. You do not come back empty-handed.
THE FLIPSIDE OF FOOD BEING SO EASY TO GET IS THAT IT is also hard to escape.
We are the first generation to be hunted by what we eat. Since the birth of farming ten thousand years ago, most humans haven’t been hunters, but never before have we been so insistently pursued by our own food supply. The calories hunt us down even when we are not looking for them. They tempt us at the supermarket checkout and on the coffee shop counter. They sing to us in adverts when we switch on the TV. They track us down on social media with amusing videos that make us want even more. They sneak into our mouths as free samples. They console us for our pains, only to become the cause of fresh sorrows. They trick us by hiding in “healthy snacks” for our children that are just as high in sugar as the “unhealthy” alternatives.
Talking about what has gone wrong with modern eating is delicate, because food is a touchy subject. No one likes to feel judged about their food choices, which is one of the reasons why so many healthy-eating initiatives fail. The foods that are destroying our health are often the ones to which we feel the deepest emotional connection. They are the stuff of childhood memories. Some say we should never speak of “junk food” because it is a pejorative term to use about someone else’s pleasures. But when poor diets become the single greatest cause of death in the world, I think we are allowed to be pejorative—not about our fellow eaters, but about the products that are making people so unwell.5
The rise of obesity and diet-related disease around the world has happened hand in hand with the marketing of fast food and sugary sodas, of processed meats and branded snack foods. As things stand, our culture is far too critical of the individuals who eat junk foods and not critical enough about the corporations that profit from selling them. We spend a lot of time discussing unhealthy foods in terms of individual guilt and willpower and not enough looking at the morality of big food companies that have targeted some of the poorest consumers in the world with products that will make them sick, or the governments that allowed them to do so. A survey of more than three hundred international policy makers found that 90 percent of them still believed that personal motivation—a.k.a. willpower—was a very strong cause of obesity.6 This is nonsensical.
It makes no sense to presume that there has been a sudden collapse in willpower across all ages and ethnic groups and each sex since the 1960s. What has changed most since the sixties is not our collective willpower but the marketing and availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Some of these changes are happening so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep track. Sales of fast food grew by 30 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, and sales of packaged food grew by 25 percent. Somewhere in the world, a new branch of Domino’s pizza opened every seven hours in 2016.7
Compared to even five years ago, the quantities in which sweets are marketed are obscene. Oversized chocolate bars are nothing new, but I was stunned recently at my nearest supermarket to see Snickers chocolate being sold not by the bar, not even by the supersized bar, but by the meter, consisting of ten bars joined together: 2,340 calories of chocolate, on special offer for a couple of dollars. If that is not an incitement to overeat, I don’t know what is.
Encouraging us to buy more food than we intend or need is a large part of the business strategy of all the major food companies. Until the mid-1990s, Hank Cardello advised some of the biggest food producers in the world. Cardello reveals that the mantra of the packaged food companies was that “you could make Americans eat just about anything, so long as you sold it right.” When the Western appetite for packaged foods finally started to reach saturation point, the industry moved on to new markets overseas. In developing and middle-income countries, branded food now hunts people down even in the privacy of their own homes. Through direct sales, multinational food companies are aggressively targeting low-income customers in some of the world’s remotest villages.8
It isn’t that food executives are evil people who actively set out to make their customers obese. But as Cardello has explained, for too long, the well-being of consumers simply didn’t figure in the calculations of the big food and beverage companies that he worked with. “All we thought about was market expansion and our own bottom line.”9 Food and beverage manufacturers explicitly talk among themselves of “heavy users” as representing their key clientele: when it comes to sugary drinks and sweets, 80 percent of the product is bought by just 20 percent of the customers.10 “Heavy user” is industry speak for people suffering from binge-eating disorder.
Yet junk food is far from the only cause of obesity, whose roots are complex and multifaceted. Across the board, across all social classes, most of us eat and drink more than our grandparents did, whether we are cooking a leisurely dinner at home from fresh ingredients or grabbing a quick takeaway from a fast-food chain. Plates are bigger than they were fifty years ago, our idea of a portion is inflated, and wine glasses are vast. It’s become normal to punctuate the day with snacks and to quench our thirst with a series of calorific liquids, from green juice and detox shots to craft sodas. You can gain weight eating expensive organic artisanal apple tarts and huge mugs of milky coffee just as easily as you can eating cheap fried chicken and Coke. As the example of grapes shows, we don’t just eat more burgers and fries than our grandparents. We also eat more fruit and more granola bars, more avocado toast and more frozen yogurt, more salad dressing, and many, many more “guilt-free” kale chips.11
Almost every country in the world has experienced radical changes to its patterns of eating over the past five, ten, and fifty years. Taken together, these changes represent a food revolution in which none of the old certainties about eating look so certain anymore. For a long time, nutritionists have held up the Mediterranean diet as a healthy model for people in all countries to follow. But recent reports from the World Health Organization suggest that even in Spain, Italy, and Crete, most children no longer eat anything like a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil and fish and tomatoes.12 These Mediterranean children, who are, as of 2017, among the most overweight in Europe, now drink sugary colas and eat packaged snack foods; they have lost the taste for fish and olive oil. On every continent, there has been a common set of changes from savory foods to sweet ones, from meals to snacks, from small independent food shops to giant supermarkets, from dinners cooked at home to meals eaten out or as takeout.
THESE CAN BE SCARY AND CONFUSING TIMES IN WHICH to eat, made still scarier by the fact that there are so many “experts” out there selling us fear of food and fad cures. Times of transition have always been a gift to confidence tricksters.13 When everything seems to be changing and we can no longer rely on the truths of the past, we become vulnerable to hucksters. Some diet gurus tell us to beware all grains; others tell us that we should fear supposedly “acid-producing” foods ranging from dairy to meat and coffee. These new diets are perhaps best seen as a dysfunctional response to a still more dysfunctional food supply: a false promise of purity in a toxic world. Meanwhile, eating disorders are on the rise across the world, among men as well as women.
Happiness at the table entails making your peace with food, and so it’s a worrying development that eating now is so often treated as an all-or-nothing game. Food has never been so angrily polarized into virtues and vices, elixirs and poisons. On a single street in a single town, there will be some people eating giant burgers toppling with many layers of meat and sauces and others eating supposedly perfect meals of kale and seaweed with fermented kombucha to drink. There are gurus telling us to avoid gluten “just in case” and others teaching us to be frightened of cheese. I worry that in many cases, our pursuit of the perfect meal has become the enemy of the good-enough meal. While we fixate on this or that wonder ingredient, the thing that seems to be in short supply now is the everyday, unglamorous home-cooked dinner.
Part of the problem is that we have lost our trust in our own senses to tell us what to eat. We wouldn’t be such easy prey for extreme diets if we could recognize food when it was right underneath our noses. Humans seem to have become—both collectively and individually—very poor at identifying food when we see it, partly because so much of what our culture offers up for us to taste is so heavily packaged and disguised.
If we have lost knowledge about we are actually eating, we have also lost the old norms regarding how to eat it. Sometimes this looks like freedom; sometimes, like chaos. In 1958, survey data suggests, nearly three-quarters of British adults drank hot tea with the evening meal, because this was the expected way to behave. Now, such shared expectations about food have largely vanished. Who can say for certain when “lunchtime” really is anymore? This generation has lived through revolutionary changes not just in what we eat but also how we eat it. Our appetites used to be held in place by a series of invisible threads, rituals that told us how to behave when we held a knife and fork. Now, the rituals are mostly gone, and so are the knives and forks.14
The nutrient content of our meals is one thing that has radically changed; the psychology of eating is another. Much of our eating takes place in a new chaotic atmosphere in which we no longer have many rules to fall back on. The problem is partly that cooking at home from raw ingredients is no longer the unquestioned daily routine it once was. One of the functions of traditional cuisines was to create a common understanding of what ingredients could and couldn’t be combined. Sometimes, these rules could feel restrictive and annoying, such as the Italian insistence that fish and cheese can never enhance each other (tell that to the person who has just enjoyed a delicious fish pie with cheddar cheese on top). But at least these culinary rules gave a sense of structure to our eating, whether you obeyed them or not. Now, many of us are eating with no structure to guide us, with the day passing in a blur of bizarre snacks. When I interviewed a product developer for a major UK supermarket in 2017, she said that the main way that British eating behavior had changed over the past decade was that people had become so erratic and hard to categorize. In a single basket of food, shoppers oscillate wildly between vegan health foods such as oat milk and meat-heavy “dude food” such as pizzas topped with pulled pork.
On an early evening train journey recently, I looked up at my fellow travelers and noticed, first, that almost everyone was eating or drinking something and, second, that they were all doing so in ways that might once have been considered deeply eccentric. One man had both a cappuccino and a can of fizzy drink from which he was taking alternate sips. A woman with headphones on was nibbling an apricot tart, produced from a cardboard patisserie box. She followed it with a high-protein snack of two hard-boiled eggs and some raw spinach. Sitting across from her was a man carrying a worn leather briefcase. He reached inside the case and produced a bottle of strawberry milkshake and a half-finished packet of chocolate-caramel sweets.
Like other modern eaters, these travelers were improvising their own food rules as they went along. The most surprising thing about this scene—which took place between Birmingham and London—is that it could have happened on a train between cities almost anywhere. As I first embarked on this book, my plan was to explore how people eat in very different ways around the world. But as I met people from different countries, I kept being struck that the things they told me about modern eating were, to a bizarre extent, the same. This is another paradox of our times. Most people can afford to eat a more varied diet than in the past, but our varied diets are varied in the same way. From Mumbai to Cape Town, from Milan to Nanjing, people told me they felt they had lived through huge changes in the way they ate compared to their parents and certainly compared to their grandparents. They spoke of the erosion of traditional home cooking and the rise of McDonald’s and of eating in front of screens. They also spoke of the backlash against ultra-processed food and the way that certain “healthy” foods (notably quinoa) had become a fetish of late. They spoke of weight-loss diets and the popularity of low-carb regimes. They spoke of feeling pressed for time to cook the things they wished they could cook.
We aspire to better food choices, yet the way we eat now is the product of vast impersonal forces that none of us asked for. The American food system provides consumers with more than four thousand separate varieties of snack bar but only one banana, the Cavendish. The choices we make about food are largely predetermined by what’s available and by the limitations of our busy lives.
It might be possible to eat in a more balanced way, if only we didn’t have to work; or go to school; or save money; or travel by car, bus, or train; or shop at a supermarket; or live in a city; or share a meal with children; or look at a screen; or get up early; or stay up late; or walk past a vending machine; or feel depressed; or be on medication; or have a food intolerance; or own an imperfectly stocked fridge. Who knows what wonders we might then eat for breakfast?
It’s now becoming abundantly clear that the way most of us currently eat is not sustainable—either for the planet or for human health. The signs that modern food is unsustainable are all around us, whether you want to measure the problem in soil erosion, in the fact that so many farmers cannot make a living from producing food, or in the rising numbers of children having all their teeth extracted because of their sugary diet. Food is the single greatest user of water and one of the greatest drivers of the loss of biodiversity. We cannot carry on eating as we are without causing irreparable harm to ourselves and to the environment. At some point, climate change may force governments to reform food systems to become less wasteful and more in tune with the needs of human health. The hope is—as we’ll see—that some governments and cities are already taking action to create environments in which it is easier to feed ourselves in a way that is both healthy and joyous. In the meantime, many individual consumers have taken matters into their own hands and tried to devise their own strategies for escaping the worst excesses of modern food.
OUR CULTURE’S OBSESSIVE FOCUS ON A PERFECT physique has blinded us to the bigger question, which is what anyone of any size should eat to avoid being sickened by our unbalanced food supply. No one can eat themselves to perfect health, nor can we ward off death indefinitely, and the attempt to do so can drive a person crazy. Life is deeply unfair, and some people may eat every dark green leafy vegetable going and still get cancer. But even if food cannot cure or forestall every ill, it does not have to be the thing that kills us.
The greatest thing that we have lost from our eating today is a sense of balance, whether it’s the balance of meals across the day or the balance of nutrients on our plate. Some complain that modern nutrition is in a state of terminal confusion and that science knows nothing about what a person should aim to eat for better health. This is not quite true. A series of systematic reviews of the evidence by some of the world’s top nutrition scientists—the kind who are not funded by the sugary drink or bacon industries—have sifted through all the data and found robust causal evidence that regular portions of certain foods do significantly lower a person’s risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.15
It’s the balance and variety of what you eat that matters rather than any one ingredient, but there are certain foods you might want to throw into the mix, depending on your preferences, your beliefs, your digestion, and whether you have a food intolerance or allergy. These protective foods are all relatively unprocessed and include nuts and seeds, beans and other legumes, and fish, the oilier the better (canned sardines are an affordable alternative). Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi seem to help us in all kinds of ways that we are only starting to understand, from gut health to reductions in the risk of type 2 diabetes. There are also numerous benefits to eating foods high in fiber, especially vegetables and fruits and real whole grains (as opposed to almost any packaged food that is labeled as containing “whole grains”). You do not have to fork out for superfoods such as fashionable kale; any vegetables, and as many different types as possible, will do.
A good diet is founded less on absolutes than on the principle of ratio. Take protein. One of the missing links in the obesity crisis seems to be the falling ratio of protein to carbohydrate in our diets. This phenomenon—first documented in 2005 by biologists David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson—is known as the protein leverage hypothesis. In absolute terms, most people in rich countries get more than enough protein, much of it from meat. What has fallen, however, is the proportion of protein in our diets relative to carbohydrates and fats. Because our food system supplies us with a flood of cheap fats and refined carbohydrates (including sugars), the percentage of proteins available to the average person in the United States has dropped from 14–15 percent of total energy intake (which is fine for most people, assuming you are not a bodybuilder, but still on the low side) to 12.5 percent. This leaves many of us hungry for protein even if we have more than enough calories. Raubenheimer and Simpson have observed this protein hunger at work in many animal species besides humans. When a cricket is short of protein, it will resort to cannibalism. Locusts will forage different food sources until they get the ideal protein balance. Humans are neither as wise as locusts nor as ruthless as crickets. When our food is low in protein, we try to extract the balance from carbohydrates, resulting in overeating. If Raubenheimer and Simpson are right, then obesity is—among many other things—a symptom of protein hunger.16
Protein leverage would also explain why low-carb diets work so well—at least in the short term—as a weight-loss tool for many people in our current food environment. The low-carb diet works in part because it is higher in protein (and lower in sugar). But there are other, gentler adjustments you could make to get your ratios back on track short of swearing off bread for life. You could cut down on sugary drinks, add yogurt or eggs to your breakfast, or go easy on carbs for just one meal a day. Or you could get more protein from green vegetables and pulses, which turn out to be much richer in amino acids than was once believed.17
- "The Way We Eat Now is both useful and informative, thoroughly and enterprisingly reported. ... Wilson presents a remarkable array of data, often in unusual and striking charts, and delivers numerous surprises."—New York Times
- "You have to read this book."—Nigella Lawson
- "In a brilliant new book, The Way We Eat Now, food writer Bee Wilson warns: 'For most people across the world, life is getting better but diets are getting worse.'"—Evening Standard (UK)
- "Wilson sets out to demonstrate how dysfunctional our attitude to taking nourishment from the world has become. She is adept at finding the bold headlines, Wilson is also good as the devastating detail. Unlike several other food writers, Wilson's solutions remain rooted and realistic."—Times Literary Supplement (UK)
- "Given our current position, The Way We Eat Now could serve as a warning, even as a threat about what could happen if we don't buck up our ideas. But it doesn't read that way. Wilson's desire to preserve the pleasure around eating shines out of this book even when grappling with the stickiest of issues."—The Spectator (UK)
- "In The Way We Eat Now Wilson questions the entire food system as she addresses the paradox of our age: why as we become progressively wealthier, our diets become ever poorer.... Processed foods, a voracious marketing machine, faddiness, Instagram, yo-yo diets, sedentary lifestyles, takeaway apps -- the villains of the piece are familiar and plentiful and Wilson lays them bare in her typically scholarly way."—The Times (UK)
- "This compelling overview of global eating habits by acclaimed food writer and Wall Street Journal columnist Wilson seesaws back and forth between alarming paradoxes. We eat to live, but what we eat is killing us.... Wilson's many fans and new converts alike will find her arguments convincing."—Booklist
- "Merging impressive data with an engaging narrative style, The Way We Eat Now tackles the unsustainability of global food systems. Bee Wilson once again proves herself one of the world's most compelling voices in journalism, revealing how food is in danger of becoming an inferior good and offering a blueprint for practical ways to return real food to its rightful place at the table. This book should be required reading for everyone."—Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica
- "Bee Wilson's deep dive into the causes and consequences of today's unsustainable -- but now worldwide -- eating patterns is nothing less than a call to action. We must change today's Global Standard Diet to one that promotes planetary as well as our own health."—Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, and author of Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
- "Bee Wilson weaves staggering information and fascinating insights into a gripping and inspiring story that is both fairytale and horror story. A brilliant must read about what touches us all."—Claudia Roden, author of Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
- "Bee Wilson has done it again. With a sharp eye and engaging narrative, Bee chronicles how our current food culture represents the best and worst of times. If you've ever felt conflicted about what to eat, here's the book that untangles the complex story of how we got here and where we might go, giving us an enlightening account that's as sobering as it is enjoyable. A prescient, important book."—Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and author of The Third Plate
- "Bee Wilson's fascinating book is a guide to the future of food and how we eat and will be eating. Meticulously researched and yet written brilliantly for the layman, her book will be often consulted on my bookshelf!"—Ken Hom OBE, Chef, author & TV presenter
- "Nobody else writing about our global food landscape is as fearless, rigorous, compassionate or readable as Bee Wilson. Thank God we have her. Why we eat what we eat - and what has shaped our global food landscape - is one of the most vital questions of our time."—Diana Henry, author of Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors
- "This is urgent reading. Bee Wilson writes with a deep understanding of the problems posed by the way we eat today, but she never loses sight of her own love for the joy and promise and power of eating well. I always walk away from her writing feeling more hopeful than despondent, resolved to do better for myself, my family, and the planet."—Chris Ying, editor of Lucky Peach
- "This book is an entertaining choice for naturalists, foodies, and health-conscious readers."—Kirkus
- "The Way We Eat Now is the British food writer's sixth book, and her most ambitious...Wilson deftly sketches four stages of the human diet..."Only in modern times," Wilson writes in one of her many brilliant passages, "could a person buy a stackable carton of fried crisps made from a slurry of dried potatoes and wheat starch seasoned with barbecue flavouring and sit on a sofa eating them not for celebration, not even out of hunger, but just out of a mild feeling of restless boredom. Only in stage four could another person - in the same mildly bored state - be eating exactly the same crisps at the exact same moment on another sofa somewhere halfway across the world."—Irish Times Magazine
- 'As Bee Wilson explains in her new book The Way We Eat Now, never before has so much energy-dense, low-nutrient food been available. Most alarming is how fruit has been engineered to be uniformly sugary, where the flavours used to be complex. Marks and Spencer sell grapes designed to taste like sweets.'—The Tablet (UK)
- "There's a lot to chew on in food writer Bee Wilson's latest book, and her writing style - informed, thoughtful, amusing and never preachy - makes it all digestible."—Washington Times
- "What she does very well is tease out the relationship between the pell-mell socioeconomic and lifestyle changes since the 1980s, changes that have swept the globe and affected virtually all of us, and our often obsessive and self-punishing attitudes and habits around eating."—the Nation
- "The book is crammed with fascinating research. The most eye-opening concerns the dark consequences of food trends. Mexican avocados have been dubbed "blood guacamole" because the swelling profits they generate have led drug cartels to impose taxes on the farmers who grow them. Those who don't pay are threatened with violence. The Way We Eat Now is not just a compendium of curiosities, but also a blazing polemic."—i NEWS (UK)
- "Wilson's new book, which sets out to examine all the ways in which, in a world of seeming abundance and choice, our food is becoming degraded to the point where it makes us ill - and to unpick our current strategies for coping with this toxic environment. Ultra-processed foods, full of additives and associated, according to some studies, with a rise in cancer risk, are the opposite of joyful. So, too, are the global brands that invade and ultimately destroy local food cultures (Wilson's book includes an account of the resources deployed by Frito-Lay to promote Doritos in Thailand)...Wilson, a food writer whose appetite for research seems to know no bounds."—Observer (UK)
- "No one writes better about what food is doing to us."—Sunday Times (UK)
- "Pick any page at random in food writer Bee Wilson's new book and you will find an arresting fact ... All this data might easily have been overwhelming, but there is not a moment in the book where you feel like you are drowning in information. The facts and figures are woven seamlessly into the narrative. Wilson writes with such clarity and grace that the chapters slip by like the courses of a delicious tasting menu. I devoured the book in a single sitting."—The Daily Telegraph (UK)
- "The Way We Eat Now is useful not just as a reflection on international trends in health and food consumption, but also as a way to think about our own eating, and the eating of our friends and families. It's a profound book that is also enjoyable to read, or at least to dip into."—Metapsychology
- On Sale
- May 7, 2019
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Basic Books