The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice
Popularized by Michael Pollan in his best-selling In Defense of Food, Gyorgy Scrinis's concept of nutritionism refers to the reductive understanding of nutrients as the key indicators of healthy food--an approach that has dominated nutrition science, dietary advice, and food marketing. Scrinis argues this ideology has narrowed and in some cases distorted our appreciation of food quality, such that even highly processed foods may be perceived as healthful depending on their content of "good" or "bad" nutrients. Investigating the butter versus margarine debate, the battle between low-fat, low-carb, and other weight-loss diets, and the food industry's strategic promotion of nutritionally enhanced foods, Scrinis reveals the scientific, social, and economic factors driving our modern fascination with nutrition.
Scrinis develops an original framework and terminology for analyzing the characteristics and consequences of nutritionism since the late nineteenth century. He begins with the era of quantification, in which the idea of protective nutrients, caloric reductionism, and vitamins' curative effects took shape. He follows with the era of good and bad nutritionism, which set nutricentric dietary guidelines and defined the parameters of unhealthy nutrients; and concludes with our current era of functional nutritionism, in which the focus has shifted to targeted nutrients, superfoods, and optimal diets. Scrinis's research underscores the critical role of nutrition science and dietary advice in shaping our relationship to food and our bodies and in heightening our nutritional anxieties. He ultimately shows how nutritionism has aligned the demands and perceived needs of consumers with the commercial interests of food manufacturers and corporations. Scrinis also offers an alternative paradigm for assessing the healthfulness of foods--the food quality paradigm--that privileges food production and processing quality, cultural-traditional knowledge, and sensual-practical experience, and promotes less reductive forms of nutrition research and dietary advice.
Nutritionism is an important contribution to the discourse of the alternative food movement, providing a unique, scholarly rationale for the food-quality paradigm. Gyorgy Scrinis provides a new language for talking about how our ideas about what makes a good diet have come to be.
Charlotte Biltekoff, University of California, Davis
Scrinis details the ideology of 'nutritionism,' in which the great majority of dietary advice is reduced to statements about a few nutrients. The resulting cascade is nutrient-based dietary guidelines, nutrition labeling, food engineering, and food marketing. I agree with Scrinis that a broader focus on foods would lead to quite a different scientific and political cascade, including a more healthful diet for many people and a different relationship between the public and the food industry.
David Jacobs, Mayo Professor of Public Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
This book artfully brings together two fields. One is the huge body of scholarly and popular texts that provide nutritional advice, or tell us what to eat. Scrinis has combed through this literature in exhaustive detail to provide a magnificent synthesis. The other field is what I would call critical nutrition studies, referring to a growing literature that interrogates and historicizes nutritional advice. Scrinis critiques this on its own terms and then suggests other approaches to evaluating food.
Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism
It is an arithmetic of which too many of us are capable--casting our eyes over our plates and calculating under our breath the balance of carbohydrate, protein, calorie, and other nutritional values. The origins of this very modern, very capitalist grace are laid bare in Gyorgy Scrinis's important, iconoclastic, and long-awaited study. If you care about the nutritional content of your food, you should care about why you care. Nutritionism, in large doses, has the answers.
Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World System
Clear and readable overview of food, diet, and what we do and don't know about it.
An impressive work of detailed scholarship and highly recommended for academic library Health & Medicine reference collections.
List of Abbreviations1. A Clash of Nutritional Ideologies2. The Nutritionism Paradigm: Reductive Approaches to Nutrients3. The Era of Quantifying Nutritionism: Protective Nutrients4. The Era of Good- and-Bad Nutritionism: Bad Nutrients and Nutricentric Dietary Guidelines5. The Macronutrient Diet Wars: From the Low-Fat Campaign to Low-Calorie6. Margarine, Butter, and the Trans-Fats Fiasco7. The Era of Functional Nutritionism: Functional Nutrients8. Functional Foods: Nutritional Engineering9. The Food Quality Paradigm: Alternative Approaches to Food and the Body10. After NutritionismAcknowledgmentsAppendix: The Nutritionism and Food Quality LexiconNotesIndex
Read an excerpt from the chapter, "A Clash of Nutritional Ideologies":