cover image How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink

How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink

Paco Underhill. Simon & Schuster, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982127-09-1

Environmental psychologist Underhill (Why We Buy) leans more Malcolm Gladwell than Alice Waters in this patchy survey of American eating habits. He presents factoids galore: Most common search term on Grubhub during the pandemic? Wine, followed by cake. The world's oldest bar? Luain's Inn in Ireland goes back around 1,100 years. Occasionally, though, the writing reads like an advertisement for Underhill's company, Envirosell; the market research firm consults for clients like Walmart, which, in addition to employing "stellar" executives, he writes, sells more than 1.5 billion pounds of bananas annually. Though Underhill interviews experts like nutrition guru Marion Nestle, he sometimes seems out of his depth: when talking to a pair of Instagram food influencers about "yolk porn," he admits he was "clueless" about Instagram stories before the interview. The most appealing passages are his personal anecdotes—such as the story of how he became the owner of a bar in New York City in his 20s, or the time when, as the eight-year-old son of a diplomat stationed behind the Iron Curtain ("the first sign I saw in western Germany: not 'Welcome to Freedom' but 'Drink Coca-Cola' "), he was plied with hamburgers and foosball by the Polish secret service. While pleasantly meandering, this fails to draw any meaningful conclusions about its subject. (Jan.)