Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink is famous for his studies of food behavior, but in recent months, evidence has piled up that challenges his research. Now, the latest voice claiming to be a victim is… Joy of Cooking. Yes, the legendary cookbook that has been published since 1936.
In 2009, Wansink and his team reviewed seven editions of Joy of Cooking to conclude that the recipes were increasing in both calorie count and portion size. They implied that the well-known cookbook, and not just fatty restaurant meals, was responsible for growing obesity rates.
In a tweetstorm this week, the Joy of Cooking Twitter account claimed that Wansink’s analysis was unfair. For example, Wansink choose to analyze only 18 out of the 275 recipes that have remained in the cookbook over the years, and he didn’t account for the addition of “healthy” chapters like salads, grains, and vegetables. Additionally, the account claimed, the study included recipes that didn’t include portion sizes — so the claim that portion sizes are increasing could not have been true — or arbitrarily increased them.
Of course, as the account itself notes, people working on Joy of Cooking are hardly impartial when it comes to Joy of Cooking. Still, it has become clear that Wansink’s work is not to be trusted either.
Wansink was once one of the most famous figures in the field of food studies. His studies received attention from television to The New York Times, and he wrote a popular book,Mindless Eating, based on his research. But in recent months, journalists led by BuzzFeed’s Stephanie M. Lee have uncovered a pattern of problems with Wansink’s studies, with many of them based on low-quality data that don’t back up the papers’ conclusions. For example, four widely covered studies about eating pizza came from a single experiment that even Wansink wrote was “flawed.”
Take the Joy of Cooking study: it was widely picked up by mainstream outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, which quoted Wansink as wondering whether restaurants were to blame for obesity: “What has happened in what we’ve been doing in our own homes over the years?”
Even at the time, the editor of the 2006 cookbook criticized the study for having “such a tiny number of recipes” and pointed out that the cookbook had become healthier overall. It’s just now, nearly a decade later, that we’ve collectively taken a closer took. So if you feel like you’ve been personally victimized by Brian Wansink, journalists and researchers have got your back.
We have reached out to Joy of Cooking to ask for more data about their analysis, as well as Wansink to ask for a response. This post will be updated as soon as we hear back.