An internationalfood company headquartered in England asked me in the autumn of l998 to talkto their managers about emerging attitudes toward nutrition and diet. I hadearlier written in a book about what I called "the extermination modelof food." I had described the way in which once upon a time food had alwaysbeen celebrated because it kept us alive and was always a challenge to acquirewith reliability. What was once only a signal of well-being and convivialityappears to have turned into a menacing threat to our health, self-control andeven moral purity. The executives thought I might have something to tell themabout an acrid trend, which they had hazily but (it turns out) presciently contemplated.
They wereright about the situation. These last weeks have erupted with fierce publicfears about dioxin in Belgian produce and farm animals, multicountry recallsof smelly Coca-Cola, mass marches over genetically modified foods. The Belgiangovernment has been toppled over the matter. The most famous brand in the worldis under drastic and seemingly enthusiastic attack. Accomplished food chemistssuch as Sir Paul McCartney have protested about the slippery slope leading fromseeds resistant to parasites to monster fetuses. And notwithstanding the relativelyreassuring serious science of the matter, a wave of near-hysterical food fearhas swept segments of Northern Europe. It's clear that the unparalleled food-prosperityof industrial societies has turned food into a charged component of symbolicas well as practical life. Dinner and nightmare merge.