Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Food puritanism

"It's good to get a historical perspective on these matters, though Kaufman is perhaps a little reductive in his approach. Still, he makes some valuable points about how the stomach influences the ways Americans view themselves. "Our understanding of virtue and vice, success and failure, has long been expressed in the language of appetite, consumption, and digestion," he writes. Our appetites may drive us, but so does our need to control them. For a Puritan like Mather, the stomach was an organ that needed to be tamed and purified. "He that would have a Clear Head," Mather proclaimed, "must have a Clean Stomach." He was fanatical on this issue and concocted schemes involving vomiting and fasting to keep stomach and mind in good working order.

Such attitudes aren't just a thing of the past. In fact, Kaufman argues, the views of the organic food movement aren't much different from Mather's. He reports on a "subversive" group of New Yorkers who swear by unpasteurized milk, which is not only "totally forbidden" but just might give you tuberculosis. Such raw-food devotees, he writes, are "postmodern Puritans" intent on "banishing all traces of pollution from their digestive tracts and every last antibiotic from all the world's food supply." Kaufman, however, is suspicious: There's just too much danger lurking in all that so-called purity." (Thanks D.)

A review of Kaufman's book: "A Short History of the American Stomach". I haven't read the book, but there is more than puritanism in the food movement: some would call it fundamentalism.

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