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Eating Promiscuously

Adventures in the Future of Food

List Price: $26.00

May 9, 2017 | Hardcover | 6 x 9, 352 pages | ISBN 9781619027350

Humans have been practicing agriculture for only a tiny fraction of our existence—beginning to domesticate plants and animals about 10,000 years ago—and, as McWilliams sees it, our efforts have failed. Our food production systems are broken, and the vast majority of what we eat is detrimental to our health and the health of the earth. But what if we could eliminate agriculture as we know it, start over, and radically alter the human diet?

If we could begin again, what would we do differently? McWilliams argues we’d be wise to take culinary lessons from the bonobo, a primate of Central Africa that eats a diet 95 percent plant based and 5 percent animal based. The plants are myriad—unlike the three plants that 60 percent of human calories come from. McWilliams’s search for a better human diet leads him to those who are actively exploring the fringes of food, a group of outliers who are seeking nutrition innovation outside the industrial food system. Throughout Eating Promiscuously, we meet with such culinarily curious characters as insect flour manufacturers, seaweed harvesters, road kill foragers, plant biologists, and a morbidly obese family who decides to go healthy—creating a book that is both narrative and informative.

Eating Promiscuously seeks to overturn our most basic assumptions about food, health, and ethics, and to generate hope for a more tasteful future—one in which we eat thousands of foods rather than dozens—with a diet that could save both ourselves and our planet.

JAMES MCWILLIAMS is a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of seven books, including The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, and A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America. His essays on food, animals, and agriculture—as well as several literary topics—have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Slate, Modern Farmer, The American Scholar, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, The Millions, and Pacific Standard, where he is a contributing writer.


“The author’s overriding assumption is that it would be better for people, animals, and the environment if our diets were more diversified. Hundreds of plants and protein sources, he rightly notes, are overlooked in favor of a narrow range of food . . . McWilliams presents a solid argument.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The need to reexamine assumptions about how we feed ourselves becomes ever more important. McWilliams does not shy from imagining radical solutions to these issues . . . Sure to be controversial.” —Booklist

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