Alan Levinovitz, author of “The Gluten Lie and Other Myths About What You Eat,” is not – and does not claim to be – a nutritionist. He’s an assistant professor of religious studies at James Madison University.
The connection between his day job and his new book? He sees our societal preoccupation with “good” and “bad” foods, our serial demonization of MSG, carbohydrates, processed foods, salt, cholesterol, sugar, gluten and so on as a cultlike obsession built not on science but on myths and superstition.
Levinovitz has written an angry, funny and highly readable condemnation of the “fearmongering” nutrition business – which he says is not just wrong but detrimental to public health. “Every food is a potential demon,” he writes. “Talking about food this way . . . creates neurotic eaters who see foods as pure or impure, natural or processed, good or evil.” And while he admits there is a “significant minority” of people who are healthier when they avoid gluten, he argues, “Anxiety about what you eat can produce precisely the same symptoms linked to gluten sensitivity.”
He recounts tales of scientific studies that don’t prove what policymakers say they prove, and he peppers the book with anecdotes such as the grain-abstaining monks of ancient China and a Duke University diet guru who whipped his female clients.
The book concludes with a 26-page, handsome presentation of his own “scientifically proven revolution in healthy eating!”: the UNpacked Diet, in which you eat all you want of anything as long as it hasn’t been packaged in plastic, aluminum foil or other “hazardous” modern materials. It’s a hilarious, pitch-perfect parody – which he then debunks, point by point, in the same way he took apart paleo, gluten-free, rice, low-salt and other diets.