Joy of Cooking takes on a food scientistMarch 22, 2018 by Darcie
New studies purporting links between food and illness come out with astonishing frequency, and the findings of what is “healthy” and what is not seem to swing back and forth like a pendulum. Usually this change is due to more complete studies or a better understanding of the science. Sometimes, however, the research is flawed.
The latter scenario cast the venerable Joy of Cooking in a negative light in 2009, when Cornell University’s Brian Wansink published a study titled “The Joy of Cooking Too Much” which found that the average calorie counts in JoC recipes had increased an astonishing 44 percent over the years. The results didn’t sit well with the keepers of the JoC legacy, John Becker (great-grandson of Irma Rombauer), and his wife Megan Scott.
The duo, with the assistance of of Rombauer’s biographer, posted a response on the Joy of Cooking website, calling into question a few items about the study, including the extremely small sample size. However, they did not question the results as a whole, assuming that Wansink’s findings were fairly accurate.
“We assumed that he was probably correct, and that the recipes probably had increased in calories per serving,” Scott told Helen Rosner, who wrote the article in The New Yorker linked above. “If we had wanted to impugn the reputation of a sitting Cornell department head, I think we would’ve found a really tough row to hoe,” Scott said.
A recent BuzzFeed exposé has now called into question much of Wansink’s research, including his findings about Joy of Cooking. John Becker submitted the data that Wansink had used in his original findings to an academic who specializes in verifying results of studies, looking for flaws in the original work. That researcher, James Heathers, found that Wansink’s results were unreliable and that his claims did not hold up.
While Joy of Cooking isn’t regarded as a diet or nutrition book, its authors were early proponents of what is now considered solid eating advice. Rombauer and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, wrote in early editions of the book that “well-grown minimally processed foods are usually our best sources for complete nourishment.”
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