Glorious Food: Ambivalence and Guilt Take Up a Lot of Space at Today's Dinner Tables

By Diane Cole

March/April 2010

The Religion of Thinness
Michelle M. Lelwica
Gurze Books. 313 pp. ISBN: 9780936077550

Born Round
Frank Bruni
Penguin Press. 354 pp. ISBN: 9781594202315

Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer
Little, Brown. 341 pp. ISBN: 9780316069908

Tell me what you dream about when you dream about food, and I'll bet it won't be my dream—and not only because, as the French say, one person's poisson (fish) is another's poison. (In French and English, the spellings and literal meanings of the word poison are the same.) In what we eat, why we eat, and how we eat, contemporary culture has added any number of new ways to define what's toxic versus what's tonic.

How did serving dinner become so complicated? Three new books, each taking a unique approach, address the increasingly fraught meaning of our menu choices, posing perplexing questions for everyone's inner (and actual) household chef: if we are what we eat, can we judge our ethics by the food we don't or won't eat? Can we weigh our values (and ourselves) according to what we consume? Is it conscious eating, or obsessive thinking, when you can't sit down to dinner without evaluating the toll on your cholesterol, the impact on the environment, and the effect on your body-image, of each fruit, veggie, carb, and protein? And why, when I go to the gym, do I feel almost hypnotically drawn to the…

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