Commentary by Terry Anker
As kids growing up in late mid-century America, we were taught that “we are what we eat.” Sitting in the back of our third-grade classrooms, we giggled that we might become giant walking heads of broccoli or colossal personifications of pork chops, like some cartoon Bluto — hungry and trapped on a deserted island, looking carnivorously at Popeye. With so many of our supposed new ideas, the refrain did not originate with us but enjoyed a renaissance with the macrobiotic diet craze of the 1960s, as we were reminded that the machines that are our bodies would function better if they were fueled by higher quality consumables. Sure.
Many sources cite the early Christian church for first recording references to the notion that, even as we are called to the Holy Eucharist, we are being reminded of the spiritual connection between nourishment and life. By the early 1800s French politician and early gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin deployed his version of the notion in the essay “Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism.” No doubt, truffles, foie gras and Champagne had come to be religious experiences for some, but the point remained: healthy body, healthy mind.
By the early part of the 20th century, pioneering nutritionist and radio talk show host Victor Hugo Lindlahr admonished us to be mindful of what we consume, lest we become overweight and lack essential vigor. His 1940 book “You Are What You Eat” reflected a cultural shift focusing solely on the secular benefits of a healthy diet. Too bad. Can we deny the connection between what we put into our bodies and how we feel? If not, can we deny the connection between what we put into our bodies and how we think? Yet even as we marvel in our collective corpulence, do we starve our eternal spirits?