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Kaufman, an English professor at New York's City University, pursues a hip, journalistic approach to America's all-consuming relationship to the gut, from Puritan rituals of fasting to the creation of the Food Network. Kaufman maintains that the feast-fast syndrome that torments America—obesity, anorexia, overeating, dieting, fads and cures, gastroporn, pollution and purity of food, and self-sufficiency—all originate from our understanding of virtue and vice, first established by the Puritans. Indeed, these first settlers held that the stomach's equilibrium reflected one's spiritual state, and the process of digestion maintained the body's intimate fine-tuning between good and evil. Days of fasting were declared as ways of seeking spiritual guidance, and purges and emetics used to expunge evil and corruption from the system, much as today's advocates of raw foods and unpasteurized milk press their enzyme cures. To demonstrate examples of the ethics of eating, Kaufman discusses dietary restrictions such as kosher foods and, conversely, the lifting of all restrictions by the primal culinary tastes nurtured in the Wild West. Kaufman traces dieting to Ben Franklin's obsession with the virtue of temperance and offers myriad examples of how certain diets (e.g., vegetarianism, single-substance eating) were intended to effect one's transformation from within. With a final paean to endangered favorites such as bananas and oysters, Kaufman digresses forgivingly in this occasionally incongruous though entertaining study. (Feb.)
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