Book: Diet and the Disease of Civilization

Diet books contribute to a $60-billion industry as they speak to the 45 million Americans who diet every year. Yet these books don’t just tell readers what to eat: they offer complete philosophies about who Americans are and how we should live. Diet and the Disease of Civilization interrupts the predictable debate about eating right to ask a hard question: what if it’s not calories—but concepts—that should be counted? Cultural critic Adrienne Rose Bitar reveals how four popular diets retell the “Fall of Man” as the narrative backbone for our national consciousness. Intensifying the moral panic of the obesity epidemic, they depict civilization itself as a disease and offer diet as the one true cure. Bitar reads each diet—the Paleo Diet, the Garden of Eden Diet, the Pacific Island Diet, the detoxification or detox diet—as both myth and manual, a story with side effects shaping social movements, driving industry, and constructing fundamental ideas about sickness and health. Diet and the Disease of Civilization unearths the ways in which diet books are actually utopian manifestos not just for better bodies, but also for a healthier society and a more perfect world.

The Government's Role in the Rise of Lab-Grown Meat

Last month, the US Department of Agriculture and FDA convened to debate meat: what it is and isn't, and if plant-based or lab-grown products like those made by Impossible Burger and Memphis Meats should be called meat. Lab-grown meat is still months from market, but vegetarian meats already have the poultry and cattle industries in a tizzy. Sales of meat analogues are growing at steady clip of 23 percent a year, nibbling out a decent market share. Let the meat industry fret. Maybe then they'll

Paleo Diet and Utopian Dreams

“Life was good for our Paleolithic grandparents,” recounts a 2001 diet book. A 2013 diet laments that civilization has “transformed healthy and vital people free of chronic diseases into sick, fat, and unhappy people." If everyone went Paleo, one dieter interviewed for this article explained, “the world would be a more beautiful, healthier place, and we all would be more healthy, better people.”

The Magic Metabolisms of Competitive Eating

Competitive eating is often seen as a trash sport, well below the status of even professional wrestling or Monster Trucks. Called the "junkiest part of America's junk culture," competitive eating is often dismissed as meaningless by critics and gurgitators alike. However, ideas of the carnival, mascu­ linity, consumerism, and the spectacle demonstrate that, like the cockfight, competitive eating can be read as a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves.

For the Starving, 'Eat Local' Isn't an Option

The Agriculture Department recently awarded more than $5 million in grants to local food projects as part of its larger "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program. The program encourages Americans to eat locally, in the belief that local foods will stimulate economic development and promote healthy eating habits. The eat-local movement looks a lot like a very old vision for a new America. Thomas Jefferson called farmers "the chosen people of God." His dream for the Agrarian Republic rested on a

The Art of Competitive Eating

They say Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest grew from a 1916 bet between a German, a Jew, and an Irishman on Coney Island: whoever could eat the most in 10 minutes was the most patriotic. The Irishman won with 13. This year, an American won with 64. I flew from San Francisco two days before the contest in late June. I went for my first interview: Crazy Legs Conti, an expert in all things oyster. His documentary “Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating” features him eating sticks of butter and waxing poetic about the souls of oysters. And how does it feel like to puke 42 dozen oysters? Like you had swallowed the world and God asked for it back.

The Paleo Diet and the American Weight Loss Utopia, 1975–2014

Paleo diets are both myths and manuals: they are myths of a lost golden age and utopian manuals for better bodies and a more perfect world. Paleo dieters believe that the human body is not adapted to civilization and reject modern ways of eating for foods that could have been hunted or gathered in the Paleolithic Era. Many of the estimated three million American Paleo dieters not only follow the dietary prescriptions, but also adopt the social, moral, and philosophical aspects of the Paleolithic way of life. I argue that this mix of myth and manual creates a new type of embodied utopia in response to changing concepts and conditions of modernity.

Diets can do more than help you lose weight – they could also save the planet

Fad diets have long been brushed off as selfish, superficial quests to lose weight. But if you study the actual content of popular diet books, you will discover that most tell a different story. Many inspire dieters to improve the health of their bodies, society and the planet. It’s a topic I explore in my research, as well as my 2018 book, “Diet and the Disease of Civilization.” More than merely guides for getting thin, diet books tell rich stories that urge people to change their lives to sa

Opinion: It’s past time for migrant children labor laws to grow up

Public attention has never been more focused on the plight of migrant children. Americans are demanding these children have what humanitarian organizations call children’s rights: education, safety, basic health care, and the right to be with their families. Let’s use this attention to recognize that many migrant children – documented or not – are denied those very same rights once they cross the border to live and work on American soil. Many wind up exempt from child labor laws. Farms today e