Sunday, July 6, 2008

Diets: of worms, fruits, and figs

The topic of the week has to do with diets. Not the kind where you lose weight--although, with some of the ones I'll be discussing, it's kind of hard not to--but rather the stuff you eat every day as part of a normal routine.

For the most part, we grew up being taught to eat a "balanced" diet, to include plenty of stuff from the "four" basic food groups and go easy on the candy and fries. The most extreme idea we might have entertained was going vegetarian, and then it was because we didn't like the thought of eating the piglets we oohed and aahed at in picture books. Then we started hearing about how Gwyneth Paltrow or some other celebrity is eating a "macrobiotic" diet, the benefits of veganism, the Bible diet, and all manners of advice on what we should eat and how we should eat it that will bring us health, propserity, happiness, and possibly that new svelte figure.

Why do we keep falling for this? It's not new--Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg made their names doing exactly this over one-hundred years ago. The phenomena of fad diets is particularly marked in America, but I don't think anybody in the world is entirely immune to the idea that you can make yourself better by changing what you eat: the food we eat becomes a part of us, so if we want to become better people we need to eat better food. In part, this is true, but as with all things that occupy the fringe between science and lunacy, the story is a lot more complicated.

But this isn't about the psychology of diets--this week I'll be talking about the diets themselves, what the science knows and doesn't know, and how our (mis)understanding of food and nutrition can literally reshape ourselves.

1) Crash course in food and nutrition
2) Vegetarianism/veganism
3) Raw diets/macrobioitics
4) What regional cuisines have to offer in terms of knowledge of food and health
5) Diets in history, why we eat what we do

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