Diet culture and immortality.

I know it’s been quiet (TOO quiet) around here lately. What can I say? I’ve been working my face off.

I did write something for The Atlantic, though, after a good long period of grumpy hermiting. Here’s a good chunk, in case you want a sample before committing to a click:

The act of ingestion is embroidered with so much cultural meaning that, for most people, its roots in spare, brutal survival are entirely hidden. Even for people in extreme poverty, for whom survival is a more immediate concern, the cultural meanings of food remain critical. Wealthy or poor, we eat to celebrate, we eat to mourn, we eat because it’s mealtime, we eat as a way to bond with others, we eat for entertainment and pleasure. It is not a coincidence that the survival function of food is buried beneath all of this—who wants to think about staving off death each time they tuck into a bowl of cereal? Forgetting about death is the entire point of food culture.

When it comes to food, Becker said that humans “quickly saw beyond mere physical nourishment,” and that the desire for more life—not just delaying death today, but clearing the bar of mortality entirely—grew into an obsession with transforming the self into a perfected object that might achieve a sort of immorality. Diet culture and its variations, such as clean eating, are cultural structures we have built to attempt to transcend our animality.

By creating and following diets, humans not only eat to stay alive, but they fit themselves into a cultural edifice that is larger, and more permanent, than their bodies. It is a sort of immortality ritual, and rituals must be performed socially. Clean eating rarely, if ever, occurs in secret. If you haven’t evangelized about it, joined a movement around it, or been praised publicly for it, have you truly cleansed?

I’m going back to grumpy hermiting for a while. I’ll send up another flare if anything exciting happens.

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9 Comments

  1. One of the Emilys
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    The Atlantic article is well worth the click–it inspires me to think from new perspectives about my own food choices.

    I hope Grumpy Hermitage® includes some of what makes you smile.

  2. Lana
    Posted February 9, 2017 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    I loved loved loved your article! I’ve never read such an accurate analysis of our cultural obsessions with dieting.

  3. Posted February 9, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you both! So happy you liked it.

  4. Caprice
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    The Atlantic – what a BFD. Congratulations!

  5. Nicole
    Posted February 12, 2017 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I’ve spent the day reading through body positive instagrams and feeling very inspired and safe, and it reminded me that you were the first person who ever told me it was okay to eat. I’ll never forget (and I’m paraphrasing here) you saying there’s only one rule when it comes to nutrition; you eat or you die. Anyway I was very pleasantly surprised when I came here to check up on you to see that you’d written another post, and a brilliant one at that. Thank you Michelle.

    • Posted February 13, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      You’re very welcome, and you have no idea how happy I am to hear that you feel inspired and safe these days.

  6. Mich
    Posted February 13, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    So nice to see you still active. Sounds like an excellent article.

  7. Phylicia
    Posted February 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    This is great! I teach religion and theology, and this really resonates with me – control of food is just one of several ‘projects’ in a post-modern quest to replace (among other things) religious belief and meaning. Kudos on the publication!

  8. Loris
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Best quote: If you are free to choose, you can be blamed for anything that happens to you….

    This applies to SO much beyond food. Thank you for stating it so bluntly.

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