McDonald’s gets a bad rap, restaurant reviewers get special treatment, and we should pretty much eat whatever we want without stressing about it. That’s the nutshell summary that some reviewers are giving of The Gospel of Food, sociologist Barry Glassner’s survey of contemporary food culture, which was released late last year. But reviews that have gone a little deeper show that the book doesn’t lend itself to sound bites and should probably be at the top of any foodophile’s reading pile (mine included).

Glassner’s discussion of income level and its relationship to food and obesity seems particularly novel. As he told Salon:

If you want to understand why people of low income tend to be more overweight and obese, it’s a complicated story. But we shouldn’t leave out the effect that food insecurity itself has; in the book I go into this in some detail, but basically there’s a parallel pattern to binge eating, where people who periodically run low on food resemble people who are on diets. When food stamps run out, or the kids’ medical expenses take precedence, or the local food bank shuts down or runs out of food, you’re not going to eat a lot. And when food becomes available again, you binge. We know that this pattern, this binge pattern, contributes to overweight and obesity. Yet we’ve come to have this odd notion that it’s what people eat, it’s what low-income people eat, rather than what they don’t eat, or when they don’t eat, or which options are not available to them, that explains their weight.

Has anyone here read the book yet? Chowhounders have had mixed reviews so far, but to me TGOF seems like the kind of work that, like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the food community will be talking about for a long time to come. And speaking of Michael Pollan, Glassner’s skeptical take on nutritional science lends an interesting voice to recent debate over what Pollan terms “nutritionism” (registration required).

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