Science writer Gary Taubes has a knack for subverting the conventional wisdom. Sixteen years ago, he published a groundbreaking feature in the The New York Times Magazine, arguing that decades of government-approved nutritional advice attacking fatty foods and praising carbohydrates was flat-out wrong, ideologically motivated, and contributed to rising rates of obesity and diabetes.
He was widely attacked—including in the pages of Reason. His 2007 book Good Calories/Bad Calories followed up on that story, as did Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It, which appeared in 2011. Today, his thesis is gaining traction among heath and nutrition researchers, and has been highlighted once again in The New York Times and Time magazine.
Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Taubes in his kitchen in Oakland, California, to talk about his latest book on nutrition, The Case Against Sugar, which recently came out in paperback.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Paul Detrick, Justin Monticello, and Weissmueller. Additional graphics by Brett Raney.
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The interview has been edited for clarity. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: The Case Against Sugar is framed as a kind of prosecutorial case. Can you lay out the opening arguments that you make against sugar for us?
Gary Taubes: We have obesity and diabetes epidemics everywhere in the world. Worldwide, they manifest whenever a population shifts from whatever their traditional diet is to westernized urban diet and so you could think of the western diet and lifestyle as the vector that carries obesity and diabetes into these populations. Then the question is, what is it in that diet?
Gillespie: Describe the western diet? Does that mean processed foods?
Taubes: Well, so that's a question. Processed foods, sedentary living-
Gillespie: Totino's pizza rolls, microwaved food?
Taubes: Pizza rolls, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald's, Coca-Cola-
Gillespie: So the whole reason that we live, the things we wait for, are the things that are killing us?