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Omnivorous Mind, The (by John S. Allen)

by: John S. Allen

Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 2012, $29.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-674-05572-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 20

Subtitled: Our Evolving Relationship with Food, the author is a neuro-anthropologist who believes man has an instinct for food, his common tastes hidden deep within his food knowledge. Without a single recipe nor a detailed food description, does he prove his point?

While Allen does understand modern humans and their need for special food and special nutrition, what that is not clear. With his scholarly arguments about evolution, he tries to make them relevant to his interests. A few can become yours and mine in his eight chapters where he offers differences among the way people react to and with food, particularly in the first about 'Crispy.' The last and those in between do less well even though Allen cites a few hundred authors in the fields of anthropology and archeology about primates and man's evolution about how food impacts different regions of the brain.

The author details social institutions and wonders what the future will bring symbolically and socially. He writes about rewards past and current because we are patterned. What we did in the past he believes are cognitive themes residing in the gustatory cortex linking brain functions. How and why, in truth, he offers weak explanations beyond popular sayings using those from Escoffier or M.F.K. Fisher.

One reviewer calls this book a well-planned menu of anecdotes and references. Clearly, it is by a researcher. He is at the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California; and he shows off his intellect and his ability to do research combining evolution and modern biology, peoples reactions, and his own experiences.

One thing we found disturbing, was a reference about a Japanese saying which we believe to be Chinese. His proof, he cites is a book he authored. Some anecdotes are given to show off our cultural individuality, aversions, even cravings. These he deems our culinary compulsive behavior as we seek gastronomic pleasure. Allen uses many of them to feed his culinary collective pot which in some places boils over with too much technical stuff including specifically where in the brain these notions reside.

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