â[An] absorbing and meticulously researched history of the beginnings and causes of our obsession with vitamins and nutrition.ââNew York Times
âBehind the bizarre disconnect between rigorous drug regulation and a âwhateverâ approach to dietary supplements are industry lobbying, Oz-like doctors and politicians on both sides of the aisle whose states benefit from the thousands of jobs provided by the multi-billion-dollar supplement industry. It is not a new story, but Ms. Price gives it a vigorous retelling. She also reminds us that the prophets of vitamania, and their political allies, would all be powerless if it were not for a peculiar kind of deficiency in ourselves that keeps us reaching for âa salve against uncertainty.â Faced with such primal fears, it seems, science is powerless.ââWall Street Journal
“Catherine Price argues in this persuasive new book, the rise in our use of vitamins to fortify foods has coincided with a reliance on less nutritious foods generally, as well as a magical belief in the power of vitamins.”Â âBoston Globe
â[M]easured, funny and fascinatingâŠ.If you need vitamins to survive (you do), you should read this book.ââScientific American, Food Matters
â[Priceâs] investigation, full of scurvy-ridden sailors, questionable nutritional supplements and solid science, is both entertaining and enlightening.ââDiscover
âCatherine Price traces the long history of Americaâs love affair with vitaminsâŠ her chilling research about the barely regulated supplements marketplace will likely have you rethinking your morning multivitamin.ââOutside Magazine
âPrice raises important questions about both supplements and vitamins, and if our government isn’t asking them, at the very least, consumers must.â âPublishers Weekly (starred review)
âEntertaining and informativeâŠAn excellent addition to collections in public and consumer health libraries.â âLibrary Journal
âA commanding, meticulously documented, and riling exposĂ© rich in dramatic and absurd science and advertising history, lively profiles, and intrepid, eyebrowraising fieldworkâŠ. Priceâs sharp wit, skillful and vivid translation of science into story, and valiant inquisitiveness (she insists on tasting synthetic vitamins and gets buzzed on the militaryâs caffeinated meat sticks) make for an electrifying dissection of our vitamin habit in contrast to our irrevocable need for naturally nutrient-rich food.â âBooklist, starred review
The concept of vitamins is so ingrained in our subconsciousÂ that we respond to it without thinking,Â convinced that the mere presence of vitamins in a foodÂ means it must be good for us. How did that happen?
I had a hunch as to what time period might holdÂ the answer: the early 1920s, when vitamins leaped fromÂ the exclusive realm of scientists to the everyday lives ofÂ consumers via stories in the popularÂ press and the advertisements thatÂ accompanied them. I was interestedÂ by McCallâs magazine in particularÂ because I knew its editors had publishedÂ several decadesâ worth of columnsÂ by Elmer McCollum, a KansasÂ farm boy-turned-scientist who tookÂ credit for discovering vitamin A.
McCollumâs recommended mealÂ plan, which he called the ProtectiveÂ Diet, was built around vitamins.Â McCollum was concerned thatÂ Americansâ increasing taste forÂ refined and processed foods was puttingÂ them at risk for health problems,Â including those caused by vitamin deficiencies. So heÂ pushed people to eat more of what he called âprotectiveÂ foods,â including leafy greens such as spinach,Â kale, collards, turnip and beet greens, and two dailyÂ salads that included raw fruits and vegetables.
McCollum was suggesting that American housewivesÂ step into a realm of nutritional detail so recentlyÂ discovered that scientists, including McCollum, wereÂ still struggling to chart it. Despite the fact that theÂ word âvitaminâ itself was barely a decade oldâandÂ scientistsâ understanding of the substances was evenÂ youngerâhomemakers were supposed to knowÂ that vitamin C prevents scurvy (a disease theyâd likelyÂ never seen) and can be found in green peppers whileÂ vitamin A is important for the immune system and isÂ present in eggs.
The idea that womenâs choicesÂ in the kitchen needed to be âofficiallyâÂ approved by nutritional scientistsÂ represented an important perceptionÂ shift in who could be trustedÂ to decide what Americans shouldÂ eat. But McCollumâs supposedÂ encouragements also hid an evenÂ more frightening assumption: thatÂ any uncareful homemakerâthatÂ is, any woman who didnât followÂ the Protective Dietâwas playingÂ Russian roulette with her familyâsÂ health. Like any truly successfulÂ health guru, McCollum wasnât justÂ a cheerleader. He was also a fearmonger.
The publicâs growing awareness of vitamins wasÂ remarkably successful in changing peopleâs attitudesÂ toward food. Americans embraced the notion thatÂ careful homemakers would ensure that their familiesâÂ through food and, later, supplementsâhad âenoughâÂ of each vitamin. How much was enough, though?Â Nobody knew.