Paradox of Plenty

Paradox of Plenty : Social History of Eating in Modern America

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Description

America has always been blessed with an abundance of food, but when it comes to the national diet, it is a land of stark contrast and paradox. In the early months of the Depression, for instance, there were 82 breadlines in New York City alone, and food riots broke out in such places as Henryetta, Oklahoma, and England, Arkansas. Yet at the same time, among those who were better-off, absurd weight-loss diets were the rage - the Pineapple-and-Lamb-Chop Diet, the "Mayo Diet" of raw tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs, and even a Coffee-and-Donuts Diet. Why do Americans eat what they eat? And why, in a land of plenty, do so many eat so poorly? In Paradox of Plenty, Harvey Levenstein offers a sweeping social history of food and eating in America, exploring the economic, political, and cultural factors that have shaped the American diet from 1930 to the present. Levenstein begins with the Great Depression, describing the breadlines and the slim-down diets, the era's great communal eating fests - the picnics, barbecues, fish fries, and burgoo feasts - and the wave of "vitamania" which swept the nation before World War II, breeding fears that the national diet was deficient in the so-called "morale vitamin." He discusses wartime food rationing and the attempts of Margaret Mead and other social scientists to change American eating habits, and he examines the postwar "Golden Age of American Food Processing, " when Duncan Hines and other industry leaders convinced Americans that they were "the best-fed people on Earth." He depicts the disillusionment of the 1960s, when Americans rediscovered hunger and attacked food processors for denutrifying the food supply, and he shows how President Kennedy helpedrevive the mystique of French food (and how Julia Child helped demystify it). Finally, he discusses contemporary eating habits, the national obsession with dieting, cholesterolphobia, "natural" foods, the demographics of fast-food chains, and the expanding role of food processorsshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 348 pages
  • 162.56 x 236.22 x 35.56mm | 929.86g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195055438
  • 9780195055436

Review quote

"Smoothly written and full of information."--Publishers Weekly"A fascinating account of the economic, political and cultural factors that have been brought to bear on the way Americans have eaten from 1930 to the present."--Minneapolis Star Tribune"Levenstein's examples and anecdotes of folly and worse, and his debunking of experts and authorities from Margaret Mead on, make lively reading."--Kirkus Reviews"With intellectual gusto and uncommon equanimity, Harvey Levenstein has done a remarkable job describing what food has meant in America for the last sixty years. His scrupulous account of all the cultural beliefs and biases that flavor how it is manufactures, marketed, cooked, eaten, exalted, damned, and denied transforms this gastronomic history into a tale of epic proportions. If a society is what it eats, Paradox of Plenty is a revealing portrait of a nation that loves and loathes itself, and has good cause to do both."--Jane and Michael Stern"Lively, entertaining....Well-written and thoroughly researched, this overview gathers together information that many health and food enthusiasts will find interesting and enlightening."--Library Journalshow more

Review Text

Levenstein's Revolution at the Table (1988), which surveyed the changes in American food habits between 1880 and 1930, is widely deemed a major contribution to our culinary history. Here, he brings the story up to date. The author provides an overview made coherent by several running motifs: nutrition claims by experts, industry, and industry bashers; the "nutrition terrorism" of "negative nutrition" and industry's response by adopting the magic word "natural"; and the patterns in which food fashions trickle up or down among classes. Also discussed are immigrants' gastronomic Americanization and, later, Americans' appropriation of ethnic foods; the concurrent rise of fast-food chains and "gourmet" dining; the politics of hunger from FDR on; and the far-from-original observation highlighted in the title: the paradox of hunger and plenty existing side by side. As the chronology proceeds and Levenstein (History/McMaster Univ., Ontario) comes closer to recent memory, the more impatient readers might become with his sweeping and cursory assertions and judgments - for example, his unspecific linking of New Left politics with the natural-foods movement, and his breezy dismissal of cholesterol concerns. (On this last topic, as throughout, he seems to be looking down with a faint disdain on all groups and views.) Still, Levenstein's examples and anecdotes of folly and worse, and his debunking of experts and authorities from Margaret Mead on, make lively reading. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Harvey A. Levenstein

About the Author: Harvey A. Levenstein is Professor of History at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.show more

Rating details

155 ratings
3.74 out of 5 stars
5 25% (38)
4 37% (58)
3 29% (45)
2 6% (9)
1 3% (5)
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