Diets Are Basically Religions, So Toxins Are Basically the Devil


Has anyone recently told you how well the Paleo diet is working for them and tried to convince you to join them in living that nut-eating, meat-avoiding cavewoman lifestyle? One commonality across all trendy diets is how much their followers love to preach their gospels of eating. “The enthusiasm some people have for the way they eat can sometimes seem a lot like religious fervor,” writes New York magazine. And Alan Levinovitz, professor of religion and author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, says “that’s no coincidence.”

But proselytization isn’t the only commonality. He continued:

Two thousand years ago, there were these Daoist monks who decided that if you avoided these five grains — and these were the staple crops of China, what the everyday person subsisted on — you’d live forever, you wouldn’t get any diseases…I’m looking at this and I’m thinking, You know, this sounds a lot like the kinds of promises that modern, secular so-called diet gurus make to their followers.

By confronting our fears of mortality, Levinovitz argues, diets function in much the same way as religions. “When it came to diet and health,” he said, “people were prone to irrationality and they were susceptible to promises that in other contexts perhaps they’d be more critical [of].”

So religion tells us, “Do good things and avoid bad ones to save your soul,” and diets tell us, “Eat good food and avoid bad ones to save your body.” Makes sense!

“Why would you want to live in a world filled with toxins? Why would you follow the Food Babe — isn’t that a terrifying world to live in?…I see people who come to believe that what you eat is so ethically charged, that they are like committing terrible sins [if they mess up.] It’s this idea that if you sin once it’s the end,” he said.

But Melissa Dahl, the author of the piece, suggests that diet and religion’s most most fundamental similarity has nothing to do with evils of toxins. Both are, she says, all about “belonging.”

One of the things I’ve been surprised about is that changing the way I eat essentially came with membership to a secret club I didn’t know about. I’ve become close with a group of vegetarian and vegan friends, and together we’ve formed an unofficial food club…it’s given me a sense of belonging, in other words, an idea that can certainly apply to devout churchgoers.

The piece makes an intriguing claim, but I still have one question: are communion wafers gluten-free?

Image via Amazon.

Contact the author at [email protected].

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