Tag Archives: Leon Rappoport

Why We Eat What We Eat pt 2 – Moralism & Politics

This is pt 2 of my self indulgent posts that lay the basis of what guides us when we make our decisions surrounding foods. There’s no basic thesis in the individual posts, but I hopefully we come to one after a little later. For now, I’m just putting down my thoughts for the sake of have it written down somewhere. You can read pt 1 here if your curious about these kinds of posts.

Again, these posts are inspired the book How We Eat, by Leon Rappoport. But in his book, he doesn’t list politics as a reason we decided on our diets, per se. He does admit it plays a part, specifically in a larger context above other three reasons (Spirituality, nutritionalism, and hedonism) are at odds with one another. He writes “…over and above these intrinsic meanings associated with food, there is another, equally abstract, level at which food can be understood as an unmistakable embodiment of ideology. This occurs whenever specific foods serve, either by design or chance, as instruments or symbols of social or political ideologies.”

Simply put he’s saying that yeah, there’s these three reasons that influence our food decisions, but above that, there’s one that stands alone as most important and deserves to be considered by itself. That issue is politics.

I agree that politics plays a part in some of our food decisions (all you have to do is bring up veal or foie gras in the right groups of people), but to separate it from the other three options gives the influence of politics unequal weight. I’m of the belief that politics is no better or no worse of a reason to make food choices than any of the other three reasons.

First let’s look at the larger political food behaviors. Hunger Strikes are probably the most extreme examples of food decisions based on politics. Think of the significance of these acts, essentially saying “I believe in my cause so much, that I am rejecting a key component of human existence to bring this to light”. Whether or not these acts are effective in communicating these messages is up for debate.

Then there are the boycotts. Thousands of people around the world decide upon which food products they will buy based upon the actions of the companies who produce certain products. From baby’s milk to Fast Food Chicken, political motivations designed to institute change affect the choices we make.

But boycotts don’t just happen at the larger group level. People make individual choices on their foods based, not necessarily on the idea of instituting change, but rather on the idea of not regarding companies with our money because of the behaviors they display. Some people by organic products for this reason, or are vegetarians. Some people avoid corporate owned restaurants or supermarkets.

There’s a larger, cultural aspect as well, specifically with the restaurants. Outside of the United States, many fast food restaurants are viewed with great disdain by older generations as influencing cultural behaviors when it comes to food. There is also an anti-Americanism surrounding the McDonalds, Wendy’s and KFC’s that are located in distant countries, with some believing them as representative of America’s cultural imperialism. That a fair many of these restaurants are popular in these distant locations, again, is for another post to figure out.

Politics shape the way we choose our foods everyday. Far more than many of us realize.


Why We Eat What We Eat – Pt 1 Moralism & Spirituality

I’m currently reading a wonderful book entitled How We Eat, by one Leon Rappoport. I saw a reference to it in a recent eGullet Forum and immediately went out to pick it up. I’m funny that way.

The book itself provides several dozen theories on the psychology of our food choices, and never insults us by telling us which theory is right, ensuring that we can draw our own conclusions. It’s a joy when a book doesn’t talk down to it’s reader.

I could easily write a post on every chapter within the book, because each topic he covers is that compelling, at least to me. But I won’t subject you all to that, and instead focus on one of the ideas Dr. Rappoport explores.

In the book, he sets forth the idea that the food choices we make are based off of three distinct idealogies: hedonism, health, and moralism. He then goes and applies each of these to the Freudian theory of Id, ego, and superego. This seems a bit of a stretch for myself, but then again, when it comes to Psychology, I’m a Jungian.

But it seems as if there is something to his choices here, and I want to elaborate my own thoughts on them, starting with Moralism today, and the other two in the days to come.

From my own perspective, you can make divide the moralistic choices of food into two subcategories: Spiritual and Political.

Growing up in a Catholic neighborhood in my youth, I saw spiritual choices in regard to food made every Friday – People ate fish in place of red or white meat. The Public schools, which fed a secular neighborhood, even ensured that fish was on the menu during Lent.

Moralism in food often contradicts the Hedonistic choices in food. As Rappoport notes, Gluttony is a venal sin in Catholicism, while those in the Orthodox Jewish faith eat kosher because kosher ensures “purity” of their food products. Muslims often avoid alcohol and pork, while most Hindis avoid beef. Indeed, these religious edicts were most likely made to ensure the tribe survived (pork carries trichinosis, while a heatlthy cow is far more valuable alive than dead), they dressed these edicts up in the swaths of gods so effectively that these behaviors are still in use today, even when science now has provided (some) means to allay the initial fears surrounding these foods.

But even the act of eating has moral behaviors surrounding it. Prayers are often performed before eating by many people. Fasting is done by many religious sects in order to “get closer to God”. In the past, many villages offered plates at the table, or sacrificed animals (and sometimes Humans) in order to ensure a good harvest. In present day India and Japan, people still offer food at the temples of their dieties.

And before those of you who claim to be non-spritual feel all superior to those offering foods to their gods, let me ask you one question: How many of you have left offerings out on the night of December 24th? How is allowing your children to provide cookies (or at the house in my youth…scotch) to Santa Claus, any different?

I’ve read recently (and even recently believed) that all of our food choices were political choices. But I don’t believe that anymore. We make our food choices for a variety of reasons. Sprituality is but one of the reasons. I’ll address more in the next few days.