An advertisement from a publishing company about books in the food studies area came through our department a couple of weeks ago. I happened upon The World Is Fat from there. After all, I’ve enjoyed books like this in the past — maybe I’m a little masochistic and like to hear all about what we’re doing wrong. Remarkably, for a book that’s so short, Popkin manages to fit in quite a bit of repetition, and not even in an interesting way.
One interesting thing about The World Is Fat is that Popkin follows a couple of families (well, composite families) here in the United States, as well as his own upbringing in the middle of the century, and also talks about the habits of two families in India — one modern one, and one from the 1960s. I liked the insight into how families behaved in the mid-1900s.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t save this book from being one piece of repetitive propaganda. Popkin’s main issue is sugary drinks. (A lot of which he calls soda, which drives me nuts on another level — it’s pop!) Okay, we get it after you’ve said that pop, juice, and milk aren’t good for us. Except, sometimes milk is good for us. That story is never really fully ironed out. That’s not a problem for me personally, and I really think that most people know that, if you’re drinking regular Coke, you’re getting calories. The American media are saturated with this information about where your “hidden calories” are coming from.
Popkin discusses briefly how exercise and activity can help, and that McDonald’s has made steps in the right direction. It’s a shame that he doesn’t do a better job of pulling these other ideas into the spotlight; it’d be nice to read about other issues with the global food culture other than that people drink caloric drinks. I’d love to hear more about how the other aspects are serious (for example, he discusses briefly that other fast food outlets are going high-calorie and whether that has made an impact on sales for either them or McDonald’s), but I came away with a taste for saccharine — literally — and little else.
For such a short book, perhaps Popkin didn’t feel that he had room to include other issues. If it truly thought that, he should have called the book How Drinks Made the World Fat. It would be a more fitting title for a book so focused that advertised itself as a comprehensive study.