The Eating Instinct, by Virginia Sole-Smith

Subtitled: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America

When the author’s first child stopped eating as an infant, she had to relearn everything she knew about food and hunger. In researching this, she moved into researching food culture in general. This book explores everything from the alternative food movement to what it’s like to try to eat on a budget restricted to food stamps. It’s not a book about how to eat, but a book about how our culture tells us to eat and gets us all twisted up in knots about the basic necessity of eating.

This was a really, really good sociological and anthropological look at US food culture in general. Sole-Smith did a thorough job with research and reaching out to different populations. For the most part, she kept her own personal biases out of the writing (except when it came to Michael Pollen, who she seemed unable to help skewering whenever possible). The book doesn’t try to be prescriptive, and doesn’t come across as holier-than. It lets people tell their own stories, and attempts to understand all different points of view.

From a personal perspective, I connected to the stories Sole-Smith told about her daughter. While I haven’t experienced a child who will not eat myself, my cousin’s son (born at 25 weeks and in NICU for months) mostly refused to eat until he was in double digits. He had a tube down his throat for the first few months of his life, which caused him to develop a terrible gagging reflex and chronic vomiting. Until he was ten or eleven, he had a feeding tube through his abdomen, and his parents had to learn to let him eat whatever he would eat. So he ate some candy and processed junk food like poptarts, and the rest of my family lamented that he would grow up to have problems with obesity and food addictions etc etc. (Notably, he is going to turn 16 this year, is taller than me, and probably weighs less than 100 lbs he’s so thin – in spite of the fact that he still eats mostly junk food – just very tiny amounts of food generally.) Sole-Smith’s daughter had many of the same issues, and Sole-Smith faced many of the same eating/feeding fears. Her thoughts on them in retrospect were very insightful.

Additionally, I loved so many of the quotes in this book, her insights about food, nutrition, and diet in general. For example:

Nutrition has become a permanently unsolvable Rubik’s Cube. So we read more books, pin more blog posts, buy more products, and sign up for more classes and consultations. And we don’t realize how many of the so-called experts guiding us through this new and constantly changing landscape are…fighting their own battles with food.


Bariatric surgeons are prescribing for fat people what we diagnose as eating disordered in thin people. (Quote from Deb Burgard, Ph.D)

Interestingly, by the end of this book I thought – huh, I should eat like I read: mostly stuff I enjoy, with some nutritious stuff mixed in because it’s good for me; eating more when I’m hungrier, less when I don’t feel like eating much; eating the same thing for weeks on end if I damn well feel like it. And of course, my brain will never let me do this, not while I’m obese and feel the need to eat/be/look healthier. But it’s a nice thought, and perhaps I will get there one day, the same way I did with reading and book-blogging. In the meantime, this was a really fascinating book to read and ponder.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2019, Adult, Prose and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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