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Healthy eating as the new religion

University of York Events
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Speaker: Professor Christina Van Dyke, Calvin College, USA

Department of Philosophy Public Lecture
The idea that we can (and should) purify ourselves via our diet is hardly a new phenomenon. From the ancient Pythagoreans to the Transcendentalist movement in nineteenth century America, what we ingest has long been imbued with spiritual significance. We live now in a largely ‘post-religious’ culture, but our speech about food retains religious overtones, and diet and food occupy a place in our lives that sometimes takes on salvific significance. We talk about food and eating in religiously and morally loaded terms, for instance, refusing the offer of dessert because we’re “trying to be good,” and experiencing guilt for “cheating” on one’s diet. One of persistent appeals of salvific religions is the promise of immortality, and a longer - perhaps indefinitely-extended - life is one of the consistent promises from diet gurus. This talk addresses the appeal and the dangers of looking to food for salvation, highlighting both the dramatic increase of orthorexia (obsession with identifying and rigidly adhering to an ideal diet) and the ways in which our fixation on "clean eating" plays out in unhealthily gendered ways.

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